After at least sixty years of being a loyal newspaper reader, I have discontinued my newspaper subscription. And it’s probably not for the reason you think. Sure, the 24-hour always-on news cycle of TV and online sources has made the print version more or less obsolete for actual news coverage, but there’s definitely a niche there for newspapers to fill.
The San Jose Mercury News had just the right geographical coverage for me, emphasizing Santa Clara County news, with lesser attention to surrounding cities and counties. This is just the right mix. National news is covered elsewhere. Local news is covered by TV stations but television tends to gravitate toward the sensational – murders, political controversies, disaster or auto and plane crashes with “good visuals.” That means mostly Oakland, Richmond, Vallejo, San Francisco. I’m not interested in yet another murder or car crash in the East Bay. Online news sources tend to be too broad (like TV) or too narrow (my city only, but not the one four blocks away over the city line). Newspapers also can go into stories in more depth. They have columnists who develop good sources to go behind the scenes, as it were, beyond the headlines. At least they used to. But actual news coverage by staff reporters has been dropped almost entirely by newspapers today, or at least by the Merc. It’s pretty much just news agency stuff and features. The paper has shrunk to maybe 10% of its former size.
But all of that isn’t why I stopped subscribing. Those problems all play a role, sure, but I would still subscribe just for Mr. Roadshow, the Sunday crossword, the Jumble, and Miss Manners, if only there was a modicum of decent news coverage to go with those. But there isn’t. The emphasis is on the word decent. It is the deterioration in the quality of the reporting that is the final straw. Here are some examples of recent idiocies in the Mercury:
A headline read that the killers of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani Nobel Prize laureate, were recently released from prison. The problem with that is that Malala is alive and well and lecturing in the U.S., as the story made clear. The headline writer obviously had not read the story and, perhaps worse, did not know who she was or thought she had been killed. She won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, two years after the attack. Actually being familiar with news and being able to read are skills one would expect in a headline writer, but apparently neither is required at the Mercury.
Another headline or picture caption about a bombing in Bangkok indicated that it was in Taiwan. Bangkok is in Thailand, not Taiwan. Geography is apparently also not a subject known to Merc staff.
An article repeatedly referred to a flag poll. Speaking of polls, another article mentioned that polls are no indication of what voters do when they’re in the ballot box. I’m wondering how they fit in there. A writer mentioned that geese leave slimy depredations. Close, but not the right word, pal. Lack of vocabulary is yet one more deficiency, although these flubs can be amusing at times. How do these get by the editors? (If there are any editors these days).
There are actually some staff members who can write. Gary Richards, Mr. Roadshow, for one. Scott Herhold, for another, although I disagree with just about everything he says. Troy Wolverton is good. It is the general news reporters, headline writers, and editors who are falling down on the job. They can’t write, spell, or understand the news itself and they have no pride in their product.
So I no longer have to trudge out to the driveway every morning to fish the wet newspaper out from directly under the rear axle where the deliverywoman accurately tosses it. I am finding those features are readily available online and for free. I even have an ad blocker on my browser. I will adjust.