Bill Murchison

The Dallas Morning News -- "Texas' Leading Newspaper," as it called itself when I went to work there in 1973 -- is downsizing. Oh, is it ever! Something like a fifth of the newsroom is destined for the trash heap, either through buyouts or, if need be, the ax, applied without remorse to the requisite number of employee necks.

It's a pretty grim landmark in Dallas history -- one The News itself helped engineer. In the '70s, the parent company "went public," handing investors partial oversight of business decisions formerly reserved for management. Then the paper decided to further a newfound commitment to "cultural diversity" and "progressive" politics by boring its customers to death. When not hacking them off. But that's another story.

What I -- a 5-year The News retiree -- think we might presently want to ponder is reality. No modern newspaper is managing with any great success to evade the consequences of the technological revolution. Daily newspaper circulation in 2005 fell by 2.6 percent, newspaper stocks by an average of 20 percent. Print advertising revenues are fundamentally stagnant.

When fewer and fewer Americans want a newspaper on their doorsteps on account of sheer indifference to the product, or zeal for scouring the Internet for news, the ordinary newspaper publisher begins to feel like a buggy-whip manufacturer in Henry Ford's Detroit.

Time was when the daily newspaper was our secular Bible -- to swear by or swear at. Nearly half a century ago, as a college freshman with aspirations to the law, not journalism, I read four newspapers a day. It was what one did in order to stay informed. No more. One can, but doesn't have to, scale a mountain of newsprint to stay informed. There's the Internet now: faster, fuller, more diverse than any newspaper can aspire to be. And you don't have to pick it up on the sidewalk during a rainstorm.

Mark you, I didn't say the new state of affairs was an unalloyed good. We relics of the stick shift and 25-cent-beer era tend to like our papers. My wife and I subscribe to four, including The Dallas News. We think there's nothing like tackling that newsprint mountain to see what the sharp-eyed editors have prepared for us. It is, in our experience, a deeper, more reliable way of news-searching than just logging on to a blog or bulletin board or whatever (vehicles of wisdom that get their ideas from the papers, if you want the truth).

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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