Sunday, January 17, 2010

The incredible shrinking newspaper

We are all vertical and able to breathe through our nostrils again, following a particularly evil manifestation of the common cold. Incidentally, there is no point trying to get used to brand new bifocals when you have a cold, as you can't tell the difference between a world distorted by profusely watery eyes and a world distorted by that irritating line in the middle of the glasses lenses.

We've been back in the U.S. for almost three weeks now. One aspect of reverse culture shock that still hasn't gone away is the apparent narrowness of the Triangle newspaper, The News and Observer (a.k.a. the N&O). I'm referring to its size as opposed to its news coverage, although the latter seems pretty slight at the moment as well.

When we moved to Freiburg, we immediately noticed that the Badische Zeitung (BZ) was wider and shorter than the N&O--no doubt measurable in some nice round sum of centimeters rather than inches. Nonetheless, coming back to Durham, I wasn't prepared for the startling difference in paper widths.

So today I finally pulled out a late 2008 edition of the N&O that just happened to be lying around inside our secret Important Documents and Mementos hiding spot. I put it on the floor above this past Friday's unmemorable Real Estate section. Eureka! The newspaper looks narrower than I remember it because it is narrower than I remember it.

The narrower width doesn't really diminish the quality of the N&O, for McClatchy has already handled that task by significantly cutting local reporting, reducing staff, and yielding most of the available print space to advertisements. But in conjunction with these other money-saving measures, the disturbing weight loss suggests a bleak prognosis: the newspaper--an invention with a 320-year history in North America--is wasting away before our very eyes, heading inexorably toward a 21st-century demise.

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