Friday, November 28, 2008

Killing Newspapers Softly

Sitting at a coffee shop in Minneapolis, I glance at the newspaper stand stacked with USA Today and my adopted hometown's daily newspaper, the Star Tribune. I almost pull out my wallet to buy one, and then...


Who needs a paper when I can log on with my handy laptop? Which is exactly what I'm doing. I want more information about the violence in Mumbai, I surf around to a few online staples: the NYT, Wash Post, and blogs I check out. And the Star Tribune has a website too.


Coffee shops have always been the enclave of the reader. Parked in the corner with his or her espresso or tea (or in my case hot chocolate), they provide at once privacy and a social scene. Where we come together to be alone. Except now with wifi we're not alone anymore. We're emailing, posting comments, blogging in my case, posting pics, maybe even a few adventuresome folks are cutting up some audio or video for their own purposes. As the violence in Mumbai, India, however, drags on into day 3, I was struck by how meaningless the local daily paper is when international crises occur. The headline above the fold is "Mumbai hunts for survivors".

But I go to the New York Times online, and there's an interactive map, a photo gallery, analysis from reporters who've covered the region in depth. Before the world wide grid, the Star Tribune had a captive audience. People needed them to bring international and national news to their backyards. No more. I can now surf the world.


I have to give the Strib credit: they are still putting up a good face, doing what they've traditionally done. And by the way, the Strib has done some phenomenal work with their website on Minnesota issues. But it does beg the question for these legacy media outlets: how do they respond to these international crises? It's one thing when the bridge falls down in your background as it did in 2007, or when the Republicans come to town to nominate their presidential candidate, but what's your role as a statewide paper when the proverbial international shit hits the fan?


I'm not saying the Strib shouldn't have put the Mumbai headline on the paper. Its magnitude is too large to ignore. But what I would love to see is a sort of Miracle on 34th Street moment. Santa Claus, who is hired by Macy's to play Santa Claus, tells parents where they can get better deals at a competing department store, Gimball's (sp?).

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