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August 24, 2006

Print Nostalgia

Economist-Newspapers

I find this an apt image to post having just relocated from Los Angeles to Barcelona for my sabbatical.

.. By the way, I hope The BAG didn’t suffer too much this past week while I was boosting signals in airport food courts from Captain’s Clubs; getting ripped off for big euros from hotels where the otherwise “free” service ran at a snails pace; slinking through lobbies juggling adapters and power cords; and wrestling with Telefonica over speed and compatibility issues in a country that has obviously yet to be invaded by the Apple Store.

More relevant, however, is the fact I haven’t seen a physical newspaper for over a week now — not since I drove away from my house, and my NY Times and LA Times subscriptions.  Because I’ve never cared much for the International Herald Tribune, I’ve decided to do what many of you already do, which is get my news strictly from the web.  And you know what?  I’m experiencing no withdrawals.

(Although I am quite motivated to tune up my Spanish to avail myself of El Mundo and El Pais, or La Vanguardia and El Periodico, which are preferred in Catalunya, I’m sure they all have on-line editions.)

But back to the image.

One association the collage pulls for is that of a ransom note.  Ironically though, the hostage has already been done away with.  Unless the aim of the cover is sensationalism, I believe the question is already antiquated, holding interest only as a matter of form and semantics.  In other words, it’s not the newspaper that has expired so much as the old concept and term “newspaper.”  Already in its place is some new information entity which has permanently bifurcated into the “physical” and “electronic” body.

The use of “Who” is also conceptually strange.  Perhaps the cover reveals an editorial staff suffering from nostalgia and fear of evolutionary change.  Besides clinging to “the newspaper” as a singular, historical entity, the sense is that the Economist — while, at the same time, trying to make light of it — can’t face the on-line revolution without wishing for someone to blame.

(illustration: unattributed.  Economist.  August 26th 2006.  Cover)

  • ummabdulla

    I think you did a great job – beyond the call of duty, really – keeping up with the BAG in the middle of moving to Spain.
    I still like newspapers, and in the Middle East, I don’t think they’re being replaced by the Internet. I wouldn’t find the local or international news – other than the big event, like Lebanon last month – online. (I’m embarassed to say that my newspapers are usually in the bathroom, though.)
    Online, I look at antiwar.com every morning, and read some of those links, and I often look at London’s Independent or Guardian. I do get the International Herald Tribune delivered, so I can see what the NY Times columnists are writing, although it usually just annoys me – especially if it’s Thomas Friedman.

  • Mad_nVT

    Maybe one could say that the Newspapers got pasted. Not really ransomed because nobody would offer to pay.
    Anyway, I think that the dying newspapers are just a symptom. Seems that the population is moving away from various credible forms of information (such as it is in the Mainstream Media) and opting for the less credible or even the incredible- whether it is the Internet, the ranters on the TV and radio, or the fraudulent pronouncements of the Bush Administration and our Legislators. Or the preachers.
    And then the poor, twisted and shallow information is bounced around person to person, without discerning the validity of the information.
    If we are supposedly in the “Information Age”, the question on the cover of the Economist might be “What killed Information?”
    Thanks to ummabdulla for her comments last week on how news is “transmitted” in the Middle East.

  • mugatea

    The letters seem to be, for the most part, from the mastheads of papers. I see The Globe, International Herald, NYT, Finacial Times (peach paper), Washington Post. The word ‘ill’ stands out, same type, in ‘killed’ offering the papers a possible remedy as oppossed to death. For the same reason the prominent ‘The’ from the NYT makes me think they hold the greatest burden in this … Judy Miller, holding back info on domestic spying before the election, Jason Blair … need I go on?
    btw … TE is considered a weekly newspaper.
    The light, open cover is positive as if something good will come out of this.

  • http://www.theunapologeticmexican.org Nezua-Limón Xolografik-Jonez

    Ah Spain! I envy your stay.
    It’s a cute concept, the cover. I think we all know who killed it. The same dastardly entity whom hath slain the rrrrah-dio, y the horse and carriage y the rotary phone, etc, etc etc
    PROGRESS, that heartless bastard with no poetry in his soul!
    But it’s tough to read day-old news once you get used to sites that update every 15 minutes or so.

  • margaret

    Big Corporate owners killed the newspapers, with their emphasis on earnings instead of quality of news. When the NYT was still the paper of record, it was called the old grey lady. But, when you read it, you had a sense that everything was well-researched, deeply analyzed, and extremely well-written.
    TV also killed the newspapers, because the image is so seductive, interfering with content. One can never really remember, correctly, what one saw on TV because the image is so powerful, it blocks out thinking, and reinforces knee-jerk emotion.
    The net is the place for news, but the reliability of fact is still questionable.

  • PTate in MN

    “the collage pulls for is that of a ransom note. Ironically though, the hostage has already been done away with. “
    I like the perky, clean mid-century graphic feel of it, but that seems to tell us something right there. Newspapers are so last century, huh?
    As you say, the graphic is classic ransom note: The kidnapper is contacting the anxious parents with his demands. We expect the ransom note to say something like “your newspaper will be killed unless you deliver a gazillion dollars by midnight.” If we respond to the kidnapper demands, we might be able to save something of value.
    But no. The text implies that “newspaper” is already dead. It is too late. We can’t change anything, just mull over what happened after the fact.
    So the graphic and the text in conflict. The visuals are confusing. What are they asking and what do they want us to do?
    We also observe confusion in the specific fonts used–as mugatea’s good eye noticed, these individual fragments are all from the mastheads of major papers. As masthead letters, they are all visually dominant and compete with each other–no simple informative body text allowed. And all these visual demands against an empty background.
    I am left with a sense of confusion: Newspapers are anachronisms, their paradigm left over from the 60s & 70s. Newspapers are confused over the relationship between themselves and their modern readers: They want our money, but what can they offer us? We should give them money for information that is already too late? They have been providing drama to demand our attention, but haven’t provided background and depth.

  • PTate in MN

    By the way, your weeklong trek to Spain had no visible impact on BagnewsNotes, from this reader’s point of view. From the regularity of posting and the images, I had no idea you were posting from food courts and wrestling with technology. Very impressive!

  • http://www.theunapologeticmexican.org Nezua-Limón Xolografik-Jonez

    The reliability of all fact is in question!

  • jt from BC

    N-LX-J > my definition of *a reliable political fact* is that it doesn’t exist until “its officially denied” the spewing forth from the master mouth of Rumsfeld confirms this with minimal checking.
    The cover reminds me of a child’s, old scrapbook but why is the background white instead of yellow which inevitably happens over time, is the illustrator in denial or following editorial instructions ?

  • http://www.jaxxattaxx.com/ black dog barking

    Ransom note is the wrong metaphor. If The Newspaper is truly dead look for a suicide note. (Strictly speaking the cause of death is neglect but where’s the story in that?) The damage done to newspapers has been self inflicted. As margaret notes the bottom line replaced the by-line some time back, the patient’s health declined thereafter.
    The Newspaper doesn’t have to be dead if it doesn’t want to be. Right now it wants to be Ad-paper. Who wants that?

  • http://www.theunapologeticmexican.org Nezua-Limón Xolografik-Jonez

    Well, my friend, it is allll in question to me.
    And designers and publishers might shy from a yellow cover simply because a “yellowed with age” tinted flat yellow cover would be ugly. I don’t remember that discussion when I was working in publishing as a designer….but I also don’t remember any yellow covers we did! (books)

  • http://www.theunapologeticmexican.org Nezua-Limón Xolografik-Jonez

    jt, funny rummy line :)

  • http://mdhatter.blogspot.com mdhatter

    who killed THE newspaper?
    interesting “the”

  • readytoblowagasket

    Wow. Slow news day for The Economist. According to the article, newspapers will be around for another 37 years.
    I guess they wanted a scoop.

  • Bob

    My two favorite cities in the world — San Diego and Barcelona.
    They have a lot in common.
    Anyway, my epiphany in understanding the newspaper business came when an author (whom I wish I could remember now) quoted some lines from Ben Jonson’s play, “The Staple of News.” One of the characters says,
    “O Sir! it is the printing we oppose.
    … for when News is printed,
    It leaves, Sir, to be News, while ’tis but writ…”
    In Jonson’s day, the men of London gathered at coffeehouses to ask “what news?” and exchange information. The point of these lines in the play is that by the time it makes it into print, it is no longer news. It is just a record of what once was news.
    And that was back in the 17th Century, before the Internet.

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