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Uncommon Sense

The Last Newpaper Reader

Henry Bassman

Friday, March 28, 2014 • 3:11pm

It has been a long time since I posted a column here.  I just ran out of things to say and time to say it.  Writing a column bears a certain level of responsibility to say something meaningful and to do so with accuracy and professionalism.  But a lot of thoughts, complaints and suggestions have piled up during my interlude, so here goes.

I read three newspapers every day - The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Newark Star-Ledger - all excellent papers in their realms.  Today I read in the Star-Ledger that there would be significant layoffs of its reportorial staff.  The holding company for the paper is combining the news-gathering duties into a centralized organization that will provide articles for a few newspapers and an online site.  I was saddened by this news because I think the Star-Ledger is an excellent newspaper, overshadowed by its proximity to New York and the widely distributed newspapers that are published there.  If it were located in another town, it would be considered one of the best papers in the U.S.

Why do I respect our maligned local newspaper, highly regarded only for its most famous reader, Tony Soprano?  Because it has a staff of local reporters.  They know the statehouse, Newark, the other large cities in northern New Jersey and the people who run or influence what goes on in the state.  A centralized bureau of people who most likely will be chained to their desks, will not have the same access to information as a reporter with wide-ranging relationships.

I know I am a dinasaur.  Most young people get their news from the Internet, John Stewart and Conan O'Brien.  With instantaneous communication and distributed printing and delivery, you can read The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal almost anywhere you go in th U.S. or online.  But there is something different about holding a local newspaper in your hands and flipping from page to page.

I grew up in Miami.  I read The Miami Herald every morning until I graduated from the University of Miami.  It was a good paper.  The Herald has given up its iconic location on Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami.  Much of the reporting is done from, and is about Broward County (to the north, where Fort Lauderdale is).  When I visit Miami, I am disappointed by the lack of news in the city's newspaper.  Most of the real news comes from syndicated sources.

But this is symptomatic of the U.S.  We just don't care about the world around us, except when it comes to sports.  A couple of years ago, my wife and I took a road trip.  Every morning I would go to the lobby of the motel where we slept that night for the complimentary breakfast.  Very few people were reading the free USA Today.  Most were watching television - not CNN, not Morning Joe, not Fox and Friends, not Today or Good Morning America - but ESPN, which was running highlights of the previous day's scores.

It is often said that people get the government they deserve.  I believe the same is true of news and information.  There has been a lot of shocked astonishment about the slow death of U.S. journalism in newspapers, on television and elsewhere.  But if people responded with action rather than words, then we would have the news and information we deserve.  Instead, we don't subscribe to newspapers, because we pretend we can get the same information for free elsewhere, when we can't.  We don't watch the evening news or even real news channels like CNN because we can't be bothered - we have more important things to do.

I just hope I am not the last newspaper subscriber in America.

Editor's Note:  Henry Bassman won first place in 2012 for his column on TAP.  He noted at the time, "I am grateful to The Alternative Press for giving me a platform to express my ideas,” Bassman said. “Taken in an historical context, the printing press freed the world from the tyranny of scribes who controlled access to information and ideas.  Summit used to rely on a single source for local news.  By opening The Alternative Press to a wide range of columnists, it has allowed other voices to be heard by a larger audience and has made a positive impact on the communities it serves.  It is the embodiment of the practical practice of democracy.”  We agree and welcome him back to TAP.

Henry Bassman has written about high-technology and medical technology (biotechnology, medical devices and healthcare issues) for more than 40 years.  He retired from AT&T, served in the U.S. Army where he became a captain and worked for ABC News.  He is now affiliated with a small investment bank.  Articles by Henry can be seen on ABCNews.com and other business Web sites.  Henry has lived in Summit, NJ for 37 years and has been married for more than 40 years.  He has three daughters who graduated from Summit High School.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TheAlternativePress.com or anyone who works for TheAlternativePress.com. TheAlternativePress.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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