Print media destroyed by one man

By Matthew M. Robare

The old print-based news media are dying. We all know that. Some of us who are not journalism majors might even be concerned. However, if you’re not concerned when the possibility of the government funding our newspapers is raised, as The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, The New York Times’ David Carr and Rep. Henry Waxman of California have all suggested, then you need to go to Wikipedia and look up “samizdat.”

Basically, the industry is dominated by a bunch of Generation Xers who remember where they were on both days a Kennedy was shot but can’t remember where they put their keys (in their breast pocket, if male; underneath an unidentifiable wrapper and maybe a dollar bill in their purse, if female).

Between the complex and revolutionary developments in technology: like the ability of a 900 channel satellite TV system to have absolutely nothing worth watching on at any given time and the enormous sociopoliticoeconomic changes affecting their unique generation (read: their children became teenagers and began taking umbrage at being treated like toddlers), they haven’t had time to be overly concerned about the profitability and long-term stability of their industry and the business model it was based on.

But then they started losing money when the stock market tanked and they had to work full days and even some nights so they could afford to keep up with their attempts to deny the inescapable truth; that they were all getting old. For years now, editors, publishers, writers and assorted others have been attempting to stave off the inevitable collapse. But, well, to coin a proverb: by the time the dinosaur can see the comet it’s too late to evolve.

It also has not helped that they have all been missing the true reason for the decline of newspapers. Sure, there are debates about revenue and relevance, but it is quite obvious that the reason newspapers are in free fall is that Dave Barry retired from writing a regular column in 2005.

Back in the day, he would write an insightful weekly column on a pertinent topic like taxes, reducing the federal budget deficit, exploding animals and why there haven’t been more politicians named after amphibians. More to the point, he was funny. No, scratch that, he was freakin’ hilarious.

His column was syndicated in newspapers around the country and on the day it ran, millions would flock to whichever section it was in, read it and  then read the entire newspaper so they would have something to do while checking back on the column in case they missed something – or the paper had suddenly become equipped with an internet connection and an update was made about exploding amphibious politicians in an obscure Midwestern town and how it can help reduce the deficit. This is how he is responsible for the decline of newspapers.

People would go out and buy the paper every single day, even though they knew in their minds that his column only came out once a week. As a result, they ended up subscribing to newspapers, where they bought products advertised in them and were just better informed than people who read Maureen Dowd.

Then, in 2004, he went on a leave of absence (I distinctly remember crying when I read that column), and the next year announced he would not be returning to his regular schedule. He still does his holiday gift guide and year in review columns, but the void his retirement created in the newspaper business has not been filled. Instead, people have moved on to Stephen Colbert and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. So, while newspapers continue to wither and die, Stewart and Colbert continue to be the country’s most trusted sources of news.

But that leaves so much undone. Without Dave Barry, we have no reputable source to keep us informed about exploding animals or teach us about proper grammar. I realize that he has his own life to live, but the Japanese, having just made a breakthrough in sexbot technology, have not announced plans to build a robotic version of him. And research into humor columnist robots is unlikely to continue in the wake of sexbots and the newspaper death spiral.

Sic transit gloria mundi, as the Romans used to say.

I think I hear a ticking sound coming from my dog.

Matthew M. Robare is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]