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Ode to the newspaper

11/13/02 12:00AM By Tom Slayton
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We are living (we are told) in the Age of the Internet. An age of cyber-communications and electronic media in which older, slower news media - especially newspapers - will become obsolete. I hope not. To paraphrase the NRA, they'll only get my newspaper when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers!

Television and radio are more immediate, it's true. Younger people are now getting their news directly from the Internet. Yet here, from an admitted addict, are some reasons why newspapers are still vital in a cyber-maniacal age:

1. Newspapers are low-tech. Vigorously, determinedly, backwardly low-tech! You don't need $1,500 worth of equipment to get online; you don't need cable access or a dish. All you need is a dollar and a few quiet minutes.

2. You can fold newspapers. You can stick them in your overcoat pocket, stuff them into a briefcase, read them in the tub or over an afternoon coffee. In short, they are flexible, as computers and television sets are not.

3. We need newspapers because they make us intelligent consumers of news. You can skim some stories, delve deeply into others, read only the headlines on others. You, the reader, are the ultimate editor. You are in charge.

4. Almost exclusively, it's the local papers that carry local news. When was the last time your local selectmen's meeting was reported on the Internet? Granted, some papers ignore things that don't interest them, and publish half-baked stories and mistakes. But that leads to my next point.

5. In Vermont, happily, there's a strong level of newspaper professionalism. And there's enormous variety, from the major dailies - the Burlington Free Press and the Rutland Herald - to the best weeklies like the White River Valley Herald and Burlington's Seven Days. The range of information, styles, and viewpoints available in newsprint is astonishing - and healthy.

6. Perhaps most important, in a hyper-speed, quick-take world, newspapers can give us news with depth and complexity. If I want to find out more about a story I've heard on the morning news, I buy a newspaper, where I unfailingly get more details and different points of view. This will be the primary function of newspapers in the future, I believe: not just providing the news, but telling us what it means.

7. Newspapers are also vital because they're fun to read. I think newspapers should last forever simply because they carry editorial cartoons. Where else for a dollar can you enjoy an artistic tradition that goes back to Hogarth and Daumier and includes such modern masters as Oliphant, Borgman, and Vermont's own master, Jeff Danziger? Add in weather maps, political columns, and crossword puzzles I can do....

Well, you get the idea. Whatever the reason, morning and evening, I must have ink smudged on my fingers and a rattling sheaf of newsprint in my hands. Newspapers are my connection to a crazy world and, even in today's cyber-society, one of the foundations of our struggling democracy.

Tom Slayton is editor of Vermont Life magazine.
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