The Third Third

What's a News Junkie to Do?

One of the luxuries of my retirement from fulltime Motherhood and the option to freelance, untethered to a 9 to 5 job, is an hour or so every morning with my newspapers and a cup – or three – of tea. I’ve been doing this for five or six years now, and even when the news is its most depressing, the exercise still feels totally decadent. I love it. My name is Ann and I am a News Junkie. It would be very hard for me to give up my morning papers. But according to much of what I’ve read and heard in the news, recently, and to two very thoughtful articles in *The New York Times* ( and *The New Republic* ( many of us are losing our hometown publications to industry failure on a number of fronts – technological, economic, journalistic, and the simple (albeit horrifying) fact that many of our citizens don’t read. Only one of my three regular reads is local. I negotiated daily delivery of *The New York Times* as a condition of my move to Dallas (from New York) 30 years ago. The *Wall Street Journal* is actually in my husband’s name, but I read it for financial information I don’t fully understand, for wine recommendations, for exposure to conservative thought (in a world where that term, “conservative thought” is otherwise an oxymoron), and as a journalist because, since purchased by Murdoch’s News organization, it has undergone quite the transformation, i.e. sports and fashion in the WSJ?? The *Dallas Morning News* is my home town newspaper – I think. Sometimes I wonder, I really do, if we live in the same town. But I get a kick out of its clever Sports headlines (and Sports is Big News in Dallas Every Day) and I pretty regularly check out the Obituaries, where every single person who dies, bless their souls, was brave and sainted. Still, the News failed to document its home town’s phenomenally sprawling growth in the 1980’s such that when I still lived on the east coast and subscribed to the DMN to see what we might be getting into – I had no idea any development whatsoever existed north of the 635 Loop. It has never focused responsible journalistic attention on the Dallas Public Schools, except to report one embarrassing misstep after another. . .for 30 years. Similarly the problems of the county’s health care system have been reported as they emerged, but not in a way that suggests they as responsible journalists or we as informed citizens have any stake in that system, or, for that matter in the public schools. And I think that’s the problem. If the newspaper has no stake in my home town, why should I care what my home town newspaper is doing, or whether it does it at all? Irrelevance is the journalistic sin here – and it’s not just because we can get our information elsewhere; it’s because the *Dallas Morning News* (and I suspect many others) lost sight of its role as the so-called Fourth Estate, and ultimately surrendered the responsibilities of Journalism to the Business of newspapers. If you listen to the editor of the *Times Picayune* in New Orleans, whose publisher, from all accounts, has been steadfast with his support despite the toll of the national economy and the hit New Orleans took, economically, from Katrina, you learn what he (the editor) learned about being the home town newspaper in the post-Katrina era. During the storm and the flooding which followed, his reporters, photographers, and editors took to the streets (often at considerable risk) to see with their own eyes what was happening. They broke the story on the failed levees. They published every day, albeit only online one day. They told the story the people forgotten and left behind and underserved and badly served by FEMA and the federal government and the state government and the local government were living. They lived it with them. They did not – neither personally nor professionally – move to higher ground where they could escape having to be invested in the daily drain – literally and figuratively – of their city. They got muddy. They lost homes. They suffered Post Traumatic Stress. They wondered if they’d see regular postal service or garbage pick-up or hear the sound of children playing in the school yard or a saxophonist’s jazz ever again. They lost their doctors, hairdressers, and neighbors. They lost ad revenues as the city lost businesses. They put their readers’ experiences into words – words as brutal as the devastation and as poetic as the spirit which, somehow, hung over them still – and the readers said Thank You. The editor couldn’t go anywhere without being stopped – and thanked. One of his columnists, one who raged and wept and talked about it with his readers, became a folk hero. “They tell me they love us, they couldn’t have gotten through that first year without us,” the editor says. “You know, there aren’t many newspapers that can say that, that their readers love them, and depend on them, that we matter.” The *Times-Picayune* aside, local newspapers may be obsolete, not only because they have failed journalistically and financially, but because, in this century, there are multiple new ways to get the information we need. The problem is, what we get instead is the information most people think they want – and that information does not necessarily serve the same purpose. It may not provoke thought or action, it may not stimulate new ideas, it may not offer different ways to approach problems, it may gloss over the problems themselves. We could end up buried in information – but buried, nevertheless – because we failed to understand what was going on in our own back yards – the toxic waste, the failed schools, the hungry children, inaccessible health care, untreated mental illness, misuse of public funds, abuse of public trust, the most-polluted air in the lower 48 – and thus failed to do anything about it. This would not be a pretty picture. But there would be no front page to put it on anyway. There\'s a certain irony to reaching an age and stage were you finally have time to read the newspapers, cover to cover if you like, only to discover there aren\'t that many newspapers anymore. I am beginning to believe I am going to have to change up my morning drill. I\'d like to figure out a new way to get all the news I need to make the decisions I\'d like to make about how to be more effectively involved in my community, now that I have the time. Will you join me?
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