Back in February, Jack Shafer wrote a column for Slate excoriating the new $450 million Newseum building next to the National Mall. He finished his anti-ode to the “monument to journalistic vanity” by gently (compared to the rest of the piece) pointing out that there are plenty of better uses for $450 million, given the troubles facing newspapers:
I want the Freedom Forum to sell off their monument valley installation and use the proceeds to actually support journalism. Like endowing a newspaper, for instance.
Just one newspaper? Those were the days. Nowadays — a mere five months later, that is — $450 million could get you 3 or 4 newspaper chains.
Anyone who (like me) has ever made fun of lame comic strips and the newspapers that run them should read this David Sullivan post about audiences’ capacity and desire for cultural change. It’s the most persuasive case I’ve read for why newspapers stick with what I would consider outdated comics, features, and language:
A columnist or feature can occasionally be hip; but a newspaper can’t be hip. It can’t be the counterculture. It is the culture. It has been part of how new ideas are absorbed into the mainstream. …
But it can be hard to find one’s place in the culture, which grows more complicated by the day; the Internet, with its social networking and postings and chat, provides a new counterculture, or multiple ones, ones that make the mainstream look even lamer than “The Family Circus” did to me in the 1970s. The argument about the future of news is partly about whether the mainstream ends with the baby boomers, like the parents left behind in “Childhood’s End” as the children join the ubermind.
The problem is that newspapers have tended to do a poor job of figuring out how to satisfy both the Family Circus and the more modern audiences. Plus the younger mainstream audience is still hipper and savvier than the Baby Boomer Family Circus audience. But Sullivan’s point is well taken.