Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Now, more than ever, it's time for newspapers -- Nov. 24, 2016 column


It’s the holiday season, so here’s a suggestion for your shopping list: Give a newspaper subscription. Better, give two – one local and one national.

To me, getting the newspapers – yes, two -- off the sidewalk in the morning and sitting with them and a cup of coffee is one of the joys of life. People who read newspapers prefer to read them in print, studies show, but fewer people are experiencing that joy.

It’s an irony of our time that newspaper circulation continues to decline when we need to know more than ever what our elected officials are doing. Our democracy needs voters who can distinguish between truth and lies.

We need real news, reliable information from sources we can trust. Real news is the antidote to toxic fake news, click-bait stories that deliberately mislead readers for fun and profit.

Average weekday newspaper circulation fell 7 percent last year, the most since 2010. Sunday paper circulation also declined. Both were because of fewer print sales. Digital circulation rose 2 percent, according to the Pew State of the News Media report in June.

For newspapers to survive and do their watchdog work, they need advertising revenue, which also is in decline.

I recommend giving the print product because we all spend too many hours in front of screens. If your friends and family prefer getting their news digitally, by all means give them a digital subscription. Three-fourths of newspapers now require a subscription to read online. 

Bashing the news media is always in fashion for politicians. President-elect Donald Trump has said about the news media: “They are so dishonest…70 to 75 percent are totally dishonest. Absolute scum. Remember that. Scum. Scum. Totally dishonest people.”

He has said he wants to open up the libel laws so he can sue newspapers, although he had second thoughts when someone told him he might get sued more as a result.

Trump, who rarely mentions The New York Times without the word “failing,” is thin-skinned. He doesn’t like news stories that are critical of him and his policies.

With 13 million followers on Twitter and 12 million on Facebook, he prefers to bypass the media. On Monday, he put out his plans for his first 100 days as president in a YouTube video.

But who broke the story of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server? The Times in March 2015 ran a page one story that led to the FBI investigation.   

And it’s not just the big, national newspapers that do excellent work. Reporters for the Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune devoted 18 months to a project that uncovered a pattern of violence, neglect and 15 deaths in state mental hospitals in Florida.

The Portland Press Herald in Maine ran a six-part series documenting severe ecological changes in the warming ocean from Nova Scotia to Cape Cod.

Newspapers and the news media are not perfect, of course. The botched prognostications of the presidential election results hurt credibility. Reduced budgets have led to staff cuts and curtailed coverage.

Trump is the latest in a line of presidents and presidential contenders who have used the news media for target practice. Lyndon Johnson scolded the media that criticized his Vietnam policy. Richard Nixon had journalists on his enemies list. 

During the 1992 campaign, President George H.W. Bush loved the bumper strip that read: “Annoy the media. Re-elect Bush.”

Bush, though, distinguished between the reporters covering him and the talking heads he thought unfair. Trump has shown universal disdain, although he cares deeply what’s said about him.

Trump reportedly rises at 5 a.m., reads several newspapers, including The New York Times, and watches the morning TV shows – and then he tweets.   

For all his bluster, even Trump recognizes the value of newspapers.

At his meeting with the Times’s reporters and editors Tuesday, he called it “a great, great American jewel, a world jewel.” And he said. “I hope we can get along.”

Right. We’ll see how that works out.

But reading a daily newspaper -- or two -- will give you the best chance of knowing what really happens around the corner and in the nation’s capital.   

©2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


  1. Another important column, Marsha. I learned to read with a print newspaper, and I've never been without one one since. Right now we subscribe to two local papers and also to the Washington Post. There's no substitute for real news!

    1. Thank you for commenting, Dan. I am glad to know you're still a loyal newspaper reader.

    2. Thank you for commenting, Dan. I am glad to know you're still a loyal newspaper reader.