Only 23 percent of American’s say they read a print newspaper yesterday, according to the Pew Research Center. Many read the news digitally, which is OK. You can get the same content, delivered to a tablet or computer. But it’s not “the paper.”
Most papers, like the one you’re reading, are delivered to your home. In the past there were paperboys who walked or got on their bikes and rode through neighborhoods delivering a sack of papers.
So then the news was not immediate like much of it is now. Reporters went to newsworthy events, pen and notebook in hand, took notes, came back to the office and typed their story, which appeared in the next day’s paper. What they wrote was usually thoughtful, well researched, and based on facts as the reporter gathered them. Sure, that still happens now and will have happened in the stories in the paper you have in hand. But this is happening less and less.
Most of the immediate news is digital. You can “Google” any topic and in a matter of seconds get hundreds of stories, some factual, some not. But you must be discerning, using judgement to decide what is fact and what is fake. What is lost in the “fake” news discussion is that some of the responsibility for deciding what is true and what is false lies with us, the readers.
We must consider the source. Separate the politics from the truth. But the instantaneous nature of news makes this more difficult.
This is worsened by the 24-hour barrage of news on cable TV conveyed by talking heads who make deciding what is real like drinking out of a fire hose. We really can’t swallow it. Can’t make sense of it, which is a problem.
The motto of this paper is “What the people don’t know will hurt them.” That’s so true, but today some of the stuff we think we “know” is obtained from questionable sources and really only someone’s opinion dressed up and presented as news.
The demise of paper can really be seen this season. People of my generation can remember the Sears and Roebuck Christmas catalog. A big chunk of paper, it came in the mail and excited kids poured over the section full of toys for weeks, using the catalog to prepare their wish list to Santa. They picked out toys that parents ordered through the mail and were delivered by the postman to their door.
This process has been supplanted by ordering toys on line, pointing and clicking with credit card in hand, or even ordering through Seri on your iPhone. No paper involved.
Another sad seasonal case of paper’s demise is the apparent decline in the Christmas card tradition. While there’s little research available to document this trend, most people say they receive fewer Christmas cards each year. But most acknowledge we pay more attention to a paper Christmas card with a hand-written, personal message from a relative or friend than a Christmas greeting in their email. The paper cards can even be displayed in festive holders, serving as decorations.
But there is an upside to the demise of paper. To make paper, we cut down trees. Paper items are shipped in vehicles, burning gas and increasing the level of carbon in our atmosphere.
Digitally transmitting, news, greeting cards and more does reduce carbon emissions. But there’s a price to pay for the loss of paper messages including:
• We can lose well-researched, objective news. Anyone can write a blog containing questionable information and post it instantly, often without careful research and tainted with political partisanship. Sure, print media reporters can do the same. But if we consider the credibility of the source, digital or paper, we can separate the “fake” from the truth.
• Digital greeting messages have trouble conveying the emotion we can present in paper. Digital greetings can contain creative audible messages and cute videos. But these don’t capture the sincere emotions contained in personal, hand-written notes. And the digital messages often deleted as soon as they are read and never shared like traditional Christmas cards.
Consider the messages you send. Consider how to best convey sincere holiday greetings. And think carefully about where you’re getting your news. Is it objective or just an effort to promote a particular political ideology. Paper or digital, it’s your obligation to separate truth from fake.
Dr. Aubrey Lee of Johnson City is a professor in the School of Business and Economics at King University in Bristol.