2011-03-10 / Sam Bari

Addiction to the information age

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

Many of us remember when the major newspapers had morning and evening editions. Some of the larger cities and towns even published two big newspapers. Usually one had conservative leanings, while the other was liberal.

Today, we hear about many people lamenting the death of newspapers and complaints of reading and writing becoming dying arts.

Nothing could be further from the truth. More people are reading today than ever before. More books are in the marketplace, and publishers are offering more authors to a seemingly insatiable audience. The difference is in the delivery system.

The book market has gone digital with the new wave of Kindles and other electronic readers. This cuts printing costs for publishers and it’s good for the environment. More material is now available to the public at greatly reduced prices.

With the advent of the new technology, classics like “Moby Dick,” “Great Expectations,” “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Don Quixote” are free, or cost a fraction of the price of a hardcover book.

Publishers tell new authors to write short novels under 120,000 words. Readers want quick reads and new material.

Admittedly, there was a downturn in reading with the advent of cable television. The tube offered the same information as readers were accustomed to finding in newspapers and books.

The visual media was appealing because it required no work and very little thought on the part of the viewers. The only other competition was radio, and that didn’t seem to affect the news market.

However, newspapers felt mildly threatened when the first newsreel appeared in movie theaters.

When I was growing up, a trip to the movies included a travelogue, a newsreel, a cartoon and a feature, whether we liked it or not.

Then television stations presented the news for 15 minutes a day. Everyone was certain that would be the death of the newspapers.

However, not until a man by the name of Ted Turner invented 24-hour news on CNN in 1980 were the newspapers seriously threatened.

Most predicted the idea of 24- hour news as absurd and swore that it was destined to fail. Turner Entertainment and CNN revolutionized the cable TV business by offering classic movies, 24- hour cartoon and news networks, and other programs that attracted broad audiences.

At the time, they were mostly commercial free. Cable subscribers paid the bills for the programming. I have no idea what happened, but that concept quickly died. It still exists in many European countries, but nowhere in the United States.

The golden age of television dramatically reduced newspaper advertising. Raising subscriber rates did not generate the revenues needed to keep the big newspapers operating. Consequently, they cut corners.

Newspapers began buying more syndicated material. The Associated Press provided national and international news while Reuters handled financial matters.

Reporters stopped flying across the country and around the globe to scoop stories. Their duties were reduced little more than covering local news and events.

Although newspaper sales dropped due to the popularity of broadcast media, the book publishing business held its own. People still liked to curl up with a good novel and read tales spun by their favorite authors.

Books were free of commercials and in-your-face print ads prompting readers to call, buy and act now.

Then came the advent of the Internet. Information on a scale never before imagined became available to everyone owning a home computer. The technology advanced faster than that of any other industry.

From the mid-1990s to nearly the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the Internet was commercial free. Internet ads were mildly annoying, but no more obtrusive than their newspaper counterparts were.

However, with the development of technology that provided Internet video and sound, commercials began appearing and soon inundated the World Wide Web. Now visitors to any of the news channels cannot watch a news clip without enduring a sponsored video commercial first.

Nonetheless, the web offers a smorgasbord of news from around the globe. CNN, FOX, AOL, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNBC, BBC News, and an English edition of Al-Jezeera are available with written articles for all to read – free of charge.

If that isn’t enough to satisfy the information junkies, most local television and radio stations in every market have an Internet presence.

Worry not – the world is addicted to information. And thanks to today’s youth, the literary arts are alive and well. Reading is enjoying a welcome resurgence in a system that we cannot understand.

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