Paul Greenberg

Kipling thought it a test of manhood if you could keep your head while others all about you are losing theirs. On the other hand, you just may not understand the situation. Which is the message I keep getting from my more disheartened, and often enough unemployed, colleagues in the editorial writing business.

Newspapers may have survived many a crisis, but we're regularly told that this one is different. This crisis is not only economic but cultural, technological, generational and, well, insurmountable. Think end times. The crux of the matter: We're just not going to be able to compete with the Internet.

I think I've heard something like this before. We weren't going to be able to compete with television, either. And before that, radio.

And maybe, before that, we'd never keep up with the town crier, either. That's when newspapers were the new medium.

My instant reaction to these prophets of doom is much like Mark Twain's when his obituary was mistakenly published: "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." So, I have to believe, are reports of the imminent death of the American newspaper.

Newspapers may not survive in their present form, just as hot lead gave way to cold type, and typewriters to word processors, but no other medium can provide what a newspaper does: a constant compendium of news, opinion, advertising, entertainment, editorial quirks and miscellaneous tidbits, all organized by someone exercising at least some minimal judgment.

Rather than have all that sliced and diced and scattered over innumerable Web sites in no particular order. Or, on the other hand, all too carefully organized to fit some ideological agenda.

There is some intangible but irreplaceable quality about any well-rooted newspaper of long standing: a sense of place, of tradition, of community. It's not just the feel of print-on-paper, however sentimental we wax about it, but what the print says and how it says it.

We grow attached to our newspaper. If it's "my country, right or wrong," it's also "my newspaper, good or bad." We come to know both its sterling qualities and glaring faults, where to look for each, what to hunt for and what to skip. What would life be without being able to complain about the paper?

There's hope even in these dire days for the newspaper industry: If examples of the art, craft and business of daily journalism are now biting the dust all around us, their successors are already forming.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.