I was skimming through my overview of discussions in the Linked In groups to which I “belong” when I came across one that immediately got my attention.
Charisse Louis, who owns a graphic design shop and is a blogger, asked the question, “Do you still read the newspaper?," bewailed that the over 55 crowd seems to be the only group that still reads the paper, and wondered what would happen when they (I assume, newspapers) were gone? She has written a blog installment on the same question. (Here's a link: http://www.charene.net/blog )
It triggered memories of bad times here on the Gulf Coast. In the wake of several hurricanes, the most devastating of which was Katrina, I saw good reason NOT to allow newspapers or local radio stations to vanish!
I know that the under 50 crowd thinks they can get their news from national broadcasts or on the Internet, but my question to them is, “what happens when there is no power, the phone lines and cell towers are damaged, you can’t get on the Internet (for lack of power or your wireless connection on your laptop isn’t getting a signal), and you can’t watch TV because it’s all digital now?”
In a media class I was teaching at Spring Hill College, many of the students believed that local radio and newspaper were “dead” until I described how it felt when a hurricane made landfall and the aftermath of the storm. Some of them had been in Mobile after Katrina, so they understood what I was talking about.
During the storm, the only connection you have to the outside world is the voice on the local radio station, since the only means of receiving news is your battery powered radio. Your battery powered televisions are no good now that we’ve gone to digital signal only. You huddle around the radio in the dark listening to that voice tell you where the storm is and what’s happening. Sometimes the voice may go off the air because the “roof of the studio is coming down.” (This actually happened during hurricane Frederic in the 70s.) So you switch to another station. I applaud these brave “voices in the dark” for staying and reporting to all the fearful folks huddled around their battery powered radios.
And when the hurricane has passed through and you emerge to take stock of the damage, you have another dilemma. Power is out, cell phones and phones may not work. Once again you feel cut off. But either that day or the next, the local paper is being sold on the street corners or delivered to your house. In the stifling heat, you read all about the devastation visited on your city and/or others down the coast; where to get help, supplies and services; catch up on the regional, national and international news; and you are eternally grateful that the paper published the issue in some other city and had it trucked in for the residents, who otherwise would be isolated.
After one of the hurricanes flooded Mobile some years back and the wind knocked out power, the Mobile Press Register still produced a daily paper. They had it printed in either Pensacola or Birmingham and trucked in. We got our in-depth news, which is still another reason for newspapers to be treasured.
Broadcast news cannot give us the in-depth coverage of a newspaper. I take the digital form of the Wall Street Journal, and treasure my time going through the articles. I read the printed format of the Mobile Press Register (as lean as it is these days). If the power goes out, I’ll lose my Wall Street Journal feed for lack of power to my computer, just as I’ll lose television coverage, but the Mobile Press Register will still be there, as will local radio stations.
I happen to like to work the crossword puzzles in the paper. I’ve tried doing crossword puzzles online, but at 9 p.m. my eyes hurt and I don’t want to be in front of a computer screen any longer!
I’m afraid of what will become of in-depth news when print is gone. I’m afraid that there will be lots of coastal residents in the dark with no friendly voices telling them what is happening if the local radio stations go automated and all we have is “national robo announcers” or satellite. I think there is good reason to have many viable mediums from which we get our news. I don’t think that digital television, satellite radio and the Internet are the end-all be-all of the media world.
Ms. Louis emailed me and said she had never considered a natural disaster when she had come up with her blog post about newspapers. And I didn’t see any other people citing similar examples in their discussions.
Is there anybody else out there that is afraid of losing our local media (especially print)? Is there anybody else out there who wonders what will happen in the wake of a natural (or unnatural) disaster? I’m afraid that we are being short sighted in our worship of the “new” technologies we have developed. How about you?