Did you know Huntsvillian? When you picked up this Tuesday morning’s hardcopy of the Huntsville Times, it was printed in Birmingham and shipped to Huntsville overnight! This new reality was announced yesterday in the Huntsville Times and in the wake of the announcement a few weeks ago that publication of the Times will go to a three day week next fall – Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.
The explanations are obvious in that we all know that digital information has made so much content so quickly and so conveniently available online. Still, I didn’t think either eventuality would come so soon. I have always wondered about the wisdom of the al.com model, which is essentially to create a state wide newspaper online by combining the biggest outlets in the state. At one point, that included several papers that have now bowed out, and so only includes The Huntsville Times, The Birmingham News and The Mobile Press Register. Having perused nearly every major newspaper online, I believe that they are the only markets in the US that have attempted to combine into one state newspaper. The others didn’t think it to be such a good idea either… so far. And frankly, I’ve never liked the combined format, thought it to be gawky, inefficient, and an insult to participating papers. Just visiting the site, it has undergone a visual transformation, but it is still overly engineered, weighs ten time as much as needed for the same presentation, has poor search results, and is simply to techy for it’s own good.
It leads me to wonder if the decisions that have been made are ahead of the curve. I always figured, even with electronic tablets, that hardcopy would survive indefinitely. A newspaper is a cohesive unit, an art form, and a form of expression unto itself. Even if something is gained, something is also lost in the online formats, even more for al.com. I guess I knew when they narrowed the margins on the broadsheet we were in for trouble. But, I actually believed that if the hardcopy had to be scaled back, it would still survive. And, I still wonder if the Huntsville Times is acting impetuously leaving the door open for the reinvention of a daily printed paper, at least in a larger market like Huntsville. There is the Valley Planet, roughly akin to Atlanta’s Creating Loafing, but not a daily publication and not really focused on hard news or the broader appeal. Then again, there’s that potentially open window…
Another bomb dropped last week. Huntsville City Schools are eliminating textbooks altogether by providing laptops or tablets to all students. I’m a touch typist, learned in high school for the very idea that I would one day be glad to be able to sit in my chair, exactly as I am now, pecking away at the keys nearly as fast as I can think. I might add, these days I also find myself thumb typing on my almost smart phone, preparing a column to upload via email. If you’re used to typing on a keyboard, and you have to switch to thumb typing, it kinda screws with your train of thought. I actually do think faster than thumb typing, though I admit my touch typing wpm is well below 100. Good thing wpm and IQ is not synonymous!
But what about the kids? Do they still get to have crayons and paper? Gee wiz. How’s a kid gonna learn hand writing on a laptop, or even a tablet? It seems to me learning to write letters by hand and learning to read one letter at a time, goes hand in hand. They go together like pencil and paper. What’s gonna happen to fat pencils and wide ruled paper? I wonder if the kids of tomorrow will be able to think and write as fast as their IQ. Maybe not.
The Post Office was already suffering, but with the newest revelations they must be positively shaking in their… (ugh, I have to say it) boots. Will the day come when only a few pieces of paper mail are delivered by package services like UPS or FEDex? An incomprehensible reality! No post office at all? We might be counting our lucky stars that online commerce has invigorated package shipping services. They surely will survive and be profitable long into the future, unless they really can figure out how to digitize and beam solid objects from one place to another. It seems it can all happen so fast.
The truth is, I’m not the guru of economics and statistics and market trends, and a gawky outfit like al.com, Huntsville City Schools, and the Post Office presumably have some highly educated big shots who have already analyzed the future, ergo the lack of future, for anything printed on paper. There certainly are losers, but definitely a lot of big winners in the equation too. Of course, trees are winning really big time. Maybe that’ll add a little oxygen to the atmosphere to help counteract global warming. On the other hand, farm land in Alaska and beachfront property in Birmingham are beginning to look pretty good these days.
In the interest of disclosure, I mention that I was once part of the now dying breed of “newspaper carriers,” then working for the already defunct Huntsville News. As an “independent contractor,” it was a wonderful terrible job. Four o’clock mornings in the rain, and cold, and darkness and the interactions I sometimes had with my subscribers over pricing, collections, and “why the hell is my newspaper on the grass when it’s raining,” prompted me once to tell an acquaintance that one day I would write a book titled: “Codependency and the Newspaper boy.”
Now, excuse me while I play my copy of Telarc’s digital master recording of the 1812 overture printed on virgin vinyl. Damn. Listening to those canons it’s like the speakers are right in the room with you! (Just don’t tell the IRS about the Twin Towers!)
© 2012 – Jim Casey
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