By CNN Writer Jim Dexter
The letter has been sitting on the table near the stairs for more than a week now, unanswered. It's from my local newspaper, asking me to renew my subscription.
I've been reading newspapers almost as long as I've been reading. At first, I just read the comics, then I began looking at the sports section, and eventually I started going through the whole thing. It's become as much a part of my morning routine as brushing my teeth or eating breakfast. Over the years, I've lived in a lot of places: big cities where the Sunday paper landed on the doorstep with a reassuring thud; small towns where it might blow away with a strong breeze. Some of those papers were better than others, but I read them all.
Now something is changing, and I don't think it's me.
The newspaper industry is sick, and it's obvious my local paper has lost a lot of weight. Like a frail old man grown too thin for his clothes, the scaled-down front page doesn't even fill the window of the newspaper rack anymore.
It's not just the result of a weak economy. A new report by Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism notes that the internet revolution has accelerated a long-term drop in newspaper readership, and contributed to "rapid declines in print advertising." It's pretty obvious that even when the economy eventually bounces back, newspapers will still be in trouble.
Although there are fewer pages in my local newspaper these days, the price has doubled over the past couple of years. The paper has to pay its reporters, after all; and with so many people reading the paper for free on the web, those of us who still get the print edition have to take up the financial slack.
It sure feels like I'm getting the raw end of this deal. After all these years, is it time to get off the paper trail?
Part of me hesitates. Even with all the recent cutbacks, most local newspapers still maintain larger reporting staffs than their TV or radio counterparts. Newspaper reporters still sit through routine school board and planning commission meetings, covering the nuts and bolts of government that are so important to a functioning democracy, but usually not very important to television ratings. If I don't help pay for this reporting, who will?
If newspapers fade away, maybe bloggers will help take up the slack. Or maybe there's some other solution no one is even thinking about yet.
In the meantime, I have a decision to make.
That letter is still sitting on my table.
Jim Dexter once worked as a copyboy at the Chicago Daily News. He's been a radio news director in Oklahoma, Illinois and Missouri, and has written for CNN since 1985.