Sunday 27 September 2009

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Bring out the coffin. Call the pallbearers. Make sure the hearse has right of way. Dust off your old copy of 'Stop All The Clocks' by W. H. Auden, last heard in 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'. In fact, hire John Hannah to provide the voiceover. And while you're at it, light up a few scented candles. A medley of jasmin and oceanus will do. Have hankies at the ready.

Print journalism is dead.

That's the verdict of Peter Preston at The Observer. Over at The Telegraph, Amanda Andrews informs us that The New York Times will start charging for online content. At The Times, Harold Evans's memoirs, 'My Paper Chase', hark back to a golden era for the written press. The message is loud and clear. The time when a journalist pressed a sheet of paper against a toilet wall editing a story whilst his flies remained open at the urinal and his own body took care of its physiological needs (thanks Ian Jack) has been crushed by that mammoth Leviathan: the internet.

But before we go searching for a priest to carry out the last rites, we need to get a grip and not panic.

A city with no dailies is hard to conceive. Newspapers shape our everyday life. Whether you are a broadsheet reader or enjoy the tawdry tales from the red tops, a nation's identity is also made up of the readership of a particular newspaper. Nouns are even coined as a consequence; apparently I am a Guardianista (without the second home in France, mind). That is why it is difficult for me to heed the trumpets announcing the demise of the once mighty newspapers. How can it be so when there are still thorough analyses, good critic and in-depth research in our regular journals?

True, there are dangers of which we have to be aware. For example, daily publications still have to maintain a degree of independence amongst them. To wit, any partisan attitude must be jettisoned in the interest of a more fair and balanced press. This is not so much to do with editorial content (which responds primarily to regular readers), but with any political alliance (which could alienate those followers).

However, as a way of assuaging our fears of a journalistic debacle we should also observe that dailies are not the only creatures facing extinction. Today's generation marvel at a cassette, ask what an overhead projector is and cannot imagine a time when we all grouped together in someone's lounge to watch a Betamax. Recording companies face the biggest threat ever from internet downloads and cinemas are closing at an alarming rate because people prefer to wait until films come out on DVD.

And if we watch the world of print journalism closely maybe we would find that it would be too premature to sound the death knell just yet. There's nothing at the moment that could occupy its place, 24/7 news notwithstanding. Online content is not infallible and the price we pay for that immediacy most of the time is less content, less depth and more confusion.

So what can be done to save dailies? One route out of this quagmire is to charge for online content, forcing the devoted reader to go and buy the paper's hard copy at the newsagents. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has certainly played around with this idea and the aforementioned newspaper, The New York Times, is dead set on levying a fee for users to access its web content. A commendable effort in the short-term, but unpredictable in the mid and long-term one. For starters, the same users who read newspapers online now (and I am one of those) do so because to invest in two or three dailies is beyond our financial means. My regular dose of news and commentary includes The Guardian, The Independent, The Times (occasionally) and The Telegraph (for its arts coverage). In addition I read Libération and Der Spiegel whenever I can. Start charging for reading their online versions and I will decamp to another publication. Which one? I don't know, I haven't got a plan B, but I won't cough up.

A better solution would be to invest more in the young generation. The children who are in primary school now should start discovering how exciting it is to write for an in-house monthly magazine. Take advantage of little boys and girls' natural curiosity, give them a camera to photograph what happens in their school garden, plant the seed of creativity, sit back and enjoy the results. Get the local paper to feature your school's stories at least once a term and share the success with the pupils. A side effect of this measure would be to improve children's syntax and grammar. No more "who's" for 'whose', "it's (contraction of 'it is')" for 'its (possessive)' or 'their' for "they're". And the aberration 'sort of/kind of' instead of 'somewhat/somehow' would be finally annihilated.

Moreover, government should fund apprenticeships in newspapers. And I am not referring to those half-hearted efforts whereby work experience students are brought in to serve tea and coffee. I'm actually suggesting that they get given their own space within a national broadsheet to voice their opinions. And submit them to the scrutiny that a professional hacker has to go through.

Get rid of confessional and agony aunt/uncle columns. They make for excruciating pain and the majority of them are not funny. I know that I have the right to turn the page if I am not keen on someone describing how awful he/she feels about his/her eyes or tummy shape. But when serious commentary makes way for insipidity of this type, I wonder if print journalism is not digging its own grave.

Another solution is to give a platform to new readers: students (discussed above), minorities (usually talked about but rarely talked to) and immigrants. And it is with the latter group that I identify myself strongly.

After years of reading the state-run Granma newspaper in Cuba, I am still amazed at the fact that my current Saturday journal contains nine sections and that each one offers interesting and valuable information. When I speak to other people born in totalitarian regimes like the Cuban one, be it Poles, Russians or Chinese, the consensus is the same, it will be a very sad day if print journalism disappears one day in the UK, let alone in the rest of the world.

Maybe the panic over the state of the written press is based on the speed with which technology has moved in recent years. Between the patent for the first telephone and the fax machine as we have come to know it today there was a lapse of about a hundred years. Barely a lustrum passed before we could text and take photos on our mobile phones.

However we also need to be aware that fashion is cyclical. If not, look at Mika's latest single, 'We Are Golden', and what is the first image that greets you? A cassette. In 2009. Come back TDK, all is forgiven.

So, is print journalism doomed? In my opinion, it isn't, but it does face a stern test ahead. So, don't write them off yet because if newspapers could talk they would surely be singing that clever refrain included in 'A Mis Cuarenta y Diez' ('At My Forty-Ten') a song by the Spanish singer Joaquín Sabina: Pero sin prisas, que a las misas de réquiem, nunca fui aficionado/que el traje de madera, que estrenaré no está siquiera plantado...(Hasten not for I have never been keen on a Requiem Mass/And the wooden suit I'll wear on my final day has yet to be farmed...

Aziza Mustafa Zadeh's concert the other night at the Cadogan Hall was memorable for three reasons. First, the venue felt perfect for her performance. It was neither too big nor too small, so the atmosphere was that of an intimate evening out with family and friends. Secondly, the two other musicians who accompanied her, Ralf Cetto on bass and Simon Zimbardo on drums, gelled magically around her to provide one of those once-in-a-lifetime nights that London is so good at proffering. And last, the Azerbi pianist herself was superb beyond description. She is one of those few musicians, in my view, who can convey a sense of nostalgia and pining for events yet to be lived. Although she played pieces I had never heard before, the feelings evoked by them were familiar and took me from absolute jubilation to pensive melancholy. Once again, Ali, thank you very much.

Copyright 2009

Next Post: 'What Makes a Good Writer?' to be published on Tuesday 29th September at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. Paper is not dead. No way, I need to feel paper in my hand from a book or the newspaper every day.

    Love Renee xoxo

  2. I am a Guardianista, too. (No second house in France either.) I buy it every Saturday no matter what. I buy other things, too; I also read online. It's all part of the mix, and I heartily agree with you: print journalism still has its place. If I want serious commentary, that is where I go. I think they need to continue to invest in that direction because there is PLENTY of "trash" around.

  3. What an excellent, interesting post. I guiltily called the NY Times the other day to cancel my Sunday subscription. When the operator pointed out that I'd been a subscriber for over twenty years, I tried to stand firm and told her that I had subscription on my Kindle. She then offered me my same subscription at 1/2 off the regular price for the next six months. She seemed desperate and I'm a sucker, so I fell for it. Sigh. I just can't get rid of the NY Times paper Sunday edition, even when I try.

  4. I think there are too many who love browsing through papers for print to die despite the terrible competition from the internet... one of the things I most miss here is the Guardian, plus Sunday mornings reading all the sunday newspapers with all the supplements and sections...the first thing i always head for when I get back to London...alas there are no real substitutes here in Mexico...

  5. Good morning! Since it will most likely be morning your time when you get this. I always enjoy Sunday blogging to see what next you'll post for us to listen to. Good thing you do since it is about the only music I get. Thanks!

    And thank you for your very nice comment on my blog. It is much appreciated!

  6. We're all talking about it from the point of view of the reader . . . and there are still some of us out here who want print on paper - but there are so many more who get their news, reviews, editorials online.

    Newspapers, however, are losing the advertising dollars that keep them afloat. Print is a dying medium - some even read from their kindle instead of from a book. My husband is in the print industry and knows it is headed the way of the caboose.

    The times they are a-changing . . .

  7. Many thanks to you all for your kind comments. One of my most precious moments if when I come back from the newsagents on a Saturday or Sunday with my fat Guardian under my arm. It makes me feel elated. Sunday autumnal mornings are best enjoyed with a cup of coffee, or a gourd of well-brewed strong 'mate', in hand and reading the latest column by the fantastic Robert McCrum or Catherine Bennet's sharp, incisive and cynical analysis.

    Greetings from London.

  8. It will be a very sad day if print disapears. I think the policing of the internet will become more strick as more and more content comes online, not sure if I like that idea.

  9. That was just brilliant. The opening was too good. I was still thinking admiringly of it when I should have been concentrating on the very crucial issues you raise. I shall have to re-read it when I have more leisure to take it in.

    Like Bee I am a Saturday Guardianista. If I bought only one paper during the week, it would be that one.

  10. I was brought up to read the NYTimes every day, and a year ago I finally had to drop the hard copy delivery because I could no longer afford their increases. I read the Times for free online, and no one's in a panic yet about a charge. I really don't think that's imminent.
    I do love the interaction online..and though newsprint is part of our heritage, it will probably take more than nostalgia to pull us through.
    Like everyone else, I like the freebies I get, but a new system is approaching in which even I will have to pay.

  11. Another fascinating post. And, as always, beautifully crafted - succinct, eloquent and informative. Thank you, Mr. Cuban, very much.

    I too, like many of your commentators, am a Guardianista - albeit without the 2nd home abroad, and to the faint disapproval of my husband who is firmly wedded to the FT. I just cannot imagine life without print journalism - oh the horror, the desolation....

    Thank you, too, for stopping by my blog despite my being so frequently absent from the Blogosphere lately. I hope now to be back, writing and reading, at full steam!

    I'm off to play catch-up on the rest of your posts. xx

  12. Wonderful post. Thanks for coming by my blog. I can't imagine not holding a book in my hand, newspapers I haven't read for years, but books...ah that would make me sad.

  13. Oh, I love the heaviness of the Sunday paper!

  14. I am a dinosaur. In an effort to move around our house without stumbling onto a book, my husband bought me a Kindle. It works wonderful and I do use it but I cannot let go of print. I have to have my hands dirty, I have to be able to open a book or a newspaper and stick my nose between the cover and breath.

  15. To wit, any partisan attitude must be jettisoned in the interest of a more fair and balanced press.

    I'm ALL for it!!

  16. Hi my friend, this article is great, thanks here are a couple of paragraph I wrote myself about the same and related themes. Hope you find them interesting. Cheers

    The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times. IT companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. Every bit of data ever produced on any computer is copied somewhere. The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free,

    The act of copying is actually a fundamental human drive. It can be seen everywhere, in everything, from fashion to linguistics to basic human development. Children are obsessive copiers. They dedicate a large amount of their time to imitate their parents, One of their principal learning strategies is copying others while doing the activity they want to be able to perform.

    The Internet chews up media and spits them out again. Sometimes they get more robust. Sometimes they get more profitable. Sometimes they die.It's a scary thought, especially if you're personally attached to an old medium like movies, books, records, or newspapers.

    But just because an industry is socially worthy, it doesn't follow that it is commercially viable. Today, besides newspapers, three other media are thrashing over their futures in a networked world, and as with newspapers, the rhetoric is mostly of the nonproductive "But I like it!" and "It's good for society!" variety, with not enough thought given to whether these media are commercially viable in the Internet age.

  17. Thanks for your post! I think that media should charge for on-line readership. They are providing a service. Thanks for visiting my blog BTW.

  18. Very timely post. As a journalist that teaches college journalism courses, I can tell you that there is panic that newspapers truly are dead. Unfortunately, the American press does not maintain the level of analysis and diversity of the British press. As a major city, Chicago is faced with becoming a one paper town as the bankruptcy of the Chicago Sun Times (a publication I started my career at) appears to be slowly killing it. I don't believe that newspapers are dead either but i do believe that their influence will continue to lessen. Your point about educatiing young students hit the nail on the head. None of my college journalism students read newspapers. The last generation to read papers daily is now in retirement. The younger generation relies on the internet for the news, accurate or not. I agree, newspapers will have to invest more in their websites as well as programs to interest more people in entering the field. Newspapers won't die but they won't have the same life they once had either.

  19. Many thanks for your kind feedback. I agree with you Mariana that the internet is a copycat. And it can be in that old Dickensian adage: the best of all experiences, or the worst one.

    Fly Girl, I have to admit that when it comes to US journalism I find myself in a vacuum, because all I have are references. However, I think that the Washington Post, The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle still provide good value for money. One initiative that has been doing the rounds is for the bigger national and regional newspapers to start buying the local journals, which to me is appalling because a reporter in Colorado will not necessarily know how to write about Boston, for instance.

    Many thanks for your comments.

    Greetings from London.

  20. your post is a veritable banquet of food for thought; i'm so pleased you left a comment with me, that i might follow the trail of crumbs to your door.

    journals which have been in print for many, many decades are dropping like flies in the u.s., however what resonates with me most in your post is the following; "She is one of those few musicians, in my view, who can convey a sense of nostalgia and pining for events yet to be lived."

    i, too, have felt this upon hearing particular performances; a queer feeling indeed, and i think the ultimate in musical experience...the transcending of time and space, the communion of spirit.

    i thank you for these profound words.

  21. Hello! Another Guardanista here. Nothing beats a Saturday morning reading the newspaper and all the extras... Like you, I don't buy it for the news, but for the opinion, and in-depth analysis. However, I don't buy newspapers any other day. I love the feeling of reading a paper product, but not enough to pay for it, when I can get news on the Internet. Also, I don't have time to read the whole newspaper on a normal day. I don't think newspapers will disappear (they also said radio would dissapear because of television), but I think they'd change and they'd need to find a new business model to survive. Exciting times!

  22. I know I'm in the minority here but I think the medium of delivery is inconsequential to the content of the message. It doesn't matter to me whether I get the news on paper, on a computer screen, from radio waves, television screen, or word of mouth. What matters to me is that the news is timely, complete and accurate.

    Newspapers who saw and responded to the inevitable have made a seamless shift to the internet. The best example I know is our local newspaper, The San Jose Mercury News. We still get the daily paper delivered to our doorstep and I will miss it dearly when that option dries up, but I know I have access to their excellent website: With the advantage of being located in Silicon Valley, they managed to successfully shift their resources and the eyeballs of their readers to the internet.

    I love your idea of investing in the younger generation, especially at the primary level where you have the highest chance of sparking a passion.

    Great, great post, Cuban!

  23. I know it's not what this post mainly is about but I have to say that I love Four Weddings and a Funeral!!
    AND also I agree with Renee....paper please!!

  24. Many thanks to you all for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.

  25. I'm with you...I won't cough up $ to read news online. No plan B yet for me either.

    I like your ideas though...especially investing in the young generation.



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