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Athens, Ohio, United States
"Art and love are the same thing. It's the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Words on a Page

I don't know if you have been paying attention, but Print Journalism is not doing so well.

Here in Ohio the scene is pretty bleak. The Cleveland Plain Dealer announced nearly 30 lay-offs, The Toledo Blade cut about 30. Rumors are circulating that the Dayton Daily News might be the next periodical to begin laying off employees and the Akron Beacon Journal is all but dead at this point. The scene in the rest of the country is no better. The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press are likely to begin publishing papers on an intermittent basis. Tribune, the company that owns The L.A Times and Chicago Tribune filed for bankruptcy last week. And papers everywhere where Oregon to New York are facing economic uncertainty.

There seems to be no reprieve to the hopelessness of the industry. While Congress is busy bailing out the banking and automotive industries, the print media is being left to die. Even back in my Journalism 101 class, every guest speaker from the print journalism business seemed to carry him or herself like a death-row inmate and deliver a message along the lines of "get out of here while you still can."

All of this begs the question: why am I doing this to myself.

Why am I willingly entering a major that could very well be dead by the time I graduate. Why set myself up for future failure. It is a question that I have asked myself often. I am not a masochist, at least I don't think I am, so the idea of a career of non-stop disappointment and pain does not appeal to me. But there is something about the industry that I cannot shake and something that gives me hope.

This weekend I received the revised AP Style book for Backdrop Magazine via e-mail. As I skimmed through the contents of the style guide, my excitement grew. Yes! They said not to use a comma before a conjunction in a context where a series of items of ideas is being listed. That particular piece of punctuation and a conjunction serve the same purpose so using them both is in essence, redundant. How exciting! I have been right in italicizes the names of magazines but I shouldn't capitalize the word "magazine."

After about twenty minutes of sustained wonder, I realized that I had just experienced what they refer to in technical terms as a "nerdgasm." The mere sight of these words on a page and all these strict rules that I had to follow to ensure the rhetorical impact of what I wanted to say excited me. I realized that there is nothing quite like writing and writing for other people to read and to derive meaning from it. I want to do this so that I can follow those rules and write something that others will read.

There is a whole generation of writers and reporters who live and die for newsprint. A generation of writers and reporters who love the hum of the printing press that is whirling in the basement and the smell of ink that wafts through a whole newsroom. There is a whole generation of readers who live and die for newsprint, as well. They love to read what they can hold in their hands and just happen to believe that their morning coffee goes best with the New York Times crossword puzzle. 

Unfortunately, I am not one of these people. Whether it be through time or circumstance I am just not part of that select group that loves the newspaper business. But what I do love can be found on any paper, not just on the recycled stock that newspapers use. I love words on the page and the impact they bring. I don't care what the page is whether it is new, old or digital. I just love to read those words and sentences and I love to write them.

A fresh stack of the Sunday edition in a newsstand creates no nostalgic or special impact for me, they are just words on a page for me to read. Now it appears those pages are dying. I will be sad if they go and I will hurt for all the men and women whose jobs were lost to technology. But I will take solace in one fact. 

The words are still there.

Regardless of how much the media changes and regardless of how many papers fall, one by one, the words will always be there and there will be people to read them. I know, and trust that I know, I am not the only one whose stomach did a little turn of delight when I saw a new style book to read. Humanity, and our society in particular will always have the universal need for information and a desire to know more about what is happening around them. As long as we have our words and we have a medium, we can provide that service. So good bye, newspapers, and good luck to whatever comes next.

I will be there to provide the words, and I am sure someone will find me a page.

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