Mesa Musings: Ink-stained news still the best

I know I'm addressing the wrong crowd, but why don't people read newspapers anymore?

I became a newspaper enthusiast when I was 10 years old. We were a two-newspaper family during my formative years: There was a morning paper and an afternoon edition.

I cut my teeth on the sports section, but began adding other sections to my repertoire as I matured.

When I was 15, this newspaper hired me to write about sports. My byline read: "Jim Carnett, Prep Reporter." I covered the B and C sports teams at my high school — Costa Mesa High — and earned 15 cents per column inch for the copy I generated.

That means a six-inch story on the Mesa High B football team earned me the staggering sum of 90 cents. It probably took me three hours to cover the game and write the story, so I was raking in 30 cents an hour. I soon realized that my little brother was making 10 times that much delivering the thrice-weekly publication on his paper route.

But I loved the excitement of the newsroom.

During the summer months I covered recreation department softball. Because I was 15, my mom chauffeured me to games and picked me up when they were over. Late in the evening she drove me to the Daily Pilot (then called the Globe-Herald) office on Bay Street and Thurin Avenue, and sat in the car in the parking lot as I wrote my story.

I was an avid newspaper reader in the Army and as a college student. Throughout my career my wife, Hedy, and I subscribed to at least one daily newspaper, and sometimes as many as three.

Now that I'm retired, I read two newspapers — from the first section through the last — with my morning coffee. It's my wicked pleasure. I know I can get my news off the Internet and television, but there's nothing quite like holding freshly inked newsprint between my grimy paws.

Hedy, like me, is also a newspaper junkie.

But we have three married daughters who are in their 30s. They're highly educated, but not one of them subscribes to a daily newspaper. How can that be? Any news they choose to avail themselves of comes from other sources. Their busy lives are focused elsewhere — on their kids and careers.

Hedy and I attended a church service the other evening. There must have been 700 people there — mostly skewing to a much younger demographic than me, though I wasn't the only graybeard in the crowd.

The pastor reported that Orange County's daily newspaper of record had run a story that morning about the church.

"How many of you saw it?" he asked expectantly.

A half-dozen people raised their hands. Six — out of 700!

He was nonplussed.

"Wow, all two of you!" he mumbled incredulously.

I'll bet 20 years ago that half of the audience would have raised a hand. Not today. Times have changed.

So, I repeat my query. Why do people in our culture no longer read newspapers? Do they realize what they're missing?

The Orange County newspaper of record that I mentioned earlier had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year. The company couldn't repay a $770 million debt (though paying employees 15 cents a column inch would be a sure-fire way to turn around that bottom line!).

Nationwide, newspaper subscriptions are declining, classified advertising revenues are tanking and advertising revenues have dropped precipitously. As a result, newspapers have had to whittle down staffs and cancel editions.

The people driving this trend are considerably younger than I.

A Pew Research Center poll conducted last year reported that only 23% of persons under 40 said they'd "miss a lot" the newspaper they read regularly if it went belly up. Thirty-three percent between ages 40 and 64 agreed with that sentiment, while 55% of people 65 and over did.

"There are other forms of communication that are more important and easier to follow," said one Pew respondent. "I either go to television (for news) or turn on the radio in my car."

Or, consult the Internet.

Not this ink-stained wretch. How 'bout you?

Shall we get our fingers dirty?

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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