As I said here, I like words, and I like information. While pictures and graphics can provide some level of information, I think solid reporting and well-crafted stories serve our communities the best. I think The New York Times' traditional design is a beautiful thing. Newspapers such as that offer less filler and are teeming with information. As such, I would probably fit perfectly well in some 18th century London coffeehouse or pub reading the latest edition of The Spectator. But then again, and for better or worse, I'm not the average Joe.
Print media, as is evidenced by the recent demise of the Rocky Mountain News, the Detroit Free Press scaling back to only three days per week, Knight Ridder's purchase by McClatchy, among others examples, print media is tanking. Perhaps sooner than later, the days of sitting in the local Huddle House or at your kitchen table reading the morning paper may be one and done. Today, at least among small to mid-size dailies, there's this dire atmosphere, almost like a desperation, to sell papers. I saw it at a local daily I used to work for. The leadership wanted giant photos, "teasers" everywhere, sports cut-outs ... basically as much crap as one could pile above the fold, the better, information and usefulness of such "elements" (as they called them) be damned. For a national example of this, see USA Today.
The problem with that model is that a publication could offer the most artistic, elegantly designed and well-photographed publication in the country, but if it missed the boat on content, it has failed in its duty to inform and educate the community it serves. After all, with all those "elements" flying around everywhere, something has to be compromised. And the content usually gets the ax, and at this aforementioned paper, that's exactly what happened. Thus — and I know to the budget-minded publisher or editor this is unpopular territory — but the public is shortchanged when elements take precedence over content. The job of newspapers is to add to the intelligence and knowledge of the public, not take away from it or contribute to the general dumbing down taking place in other outlets like radio and television. Have we lost our muster when we simply can't sell newspapers by compelling headlines and probing reporting? Have J-schools across the country failed us in producing a generation of editors and publishers who are OK with this nonsense? Can't we be everything television and radio isn't?
As an example, Stephen King's name doesn't jump out at you because he's got lots of cool pictures and graphics in his books. In fact, it's hard to find a single picture anywhere! His name jumps out at you because he does something with words and ideas that few others can. We are raising and educating a generation of journalism amateurs — or wimps — in this regard. What King does and what journalists do are polar, of course, but I'm arguing that words, in and of themselves, can be compelling and can make newspapers or books or whatever fly off the racks. Journalism is not for the bashful. True journalism doesn't hide behind snazzy graphics or photos. It can be powerful, and it can change communities. I've seen it happen. But I'm probably arguing in 20th century, or even 19th century, terms.
Here in the 21st century, the Internet provides a literal free for all of information, thus rendering newspapers largely irrelevant, except only to a select few still enamored with their morning coffee-paper routine. I'm in that crowd, but admittedly, we must move on. Insomuch as small- to medium-sized dailies are going to continue to offer their daily fare of elements, giant photos, graphics simply for the sake of graphics and cartoon-sized headlines, they should just fold up shop and put all that time and effort into the Internet, as witnessed by this publication.
Whoever created this is probably quite proud, but this is a newspaper, not a graphic showroom. And by the way, to further illustrate why this is trash, where is the local news on the front page? Can you find it? Clemson Tigers basketball is local, but that's sports. A local feature story about an artist is not local news. Photos and graphics have all but consumed this paper. I am sure local news in short supply can be found inside, but it should be found out front, and it's not. (The paper recently reformatted to this tabloid design.)
Almost all of this paper's readers — and millions more — are online, so why not scale back the effort, stop contributing to the trash heap and publish solid reporting and well-crafted writing on the Web site. And, the money saved from going virtual could be put into increased attempts to sell ad space on the Web through banners, specially-priced ads based on where they appear on the page, Web design, hosting and other ventures. In short, if the goal is to abandon the traditional model for newspapers as we know them, get on with the end game. Get completely virtual, stop publishing graphic-laden, information-less trash and give up the ghost. I'll never read books online and if there is still a local or national newspaper still putting out quality work in print form, chances are I'm going to read it. But thankfully, books still have a market in print form. Of the former newspapers, I'm not sure. We are too enamored with the sound bites of FOX News and CNBC and CNN to care about newspapers anymore. And that's fine. But it's time some papers stop pretending to be relevant, if that relevancy means compromising journalistic integrity to en masse photos and graphics signifying nothing.