Guest Columnist Ray Mosby 8/5/2014

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Newspaper deaths exaggerated, but publications were better in the old days

“You know, the reporting in this paper sure was better when we still had reporters.”                                   —Joe Ellis

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ROLLING FORK—Honored as I am to sit on the board of the Miss. Press Association, it is both my pleasure and responsibility to advise folks that the reports of the deaths of newspapers, especially in this state, are greatly exaggerated. We are hardly at death’s door when a recent survey we commissioned revealed that 1.5 million folks in this state say they read their local papers and newspapers remain, by a considerable margin, the preferred vehicle for advertising.

But I can say that in absolute honesty and with the statistics to back it up, while also making a personal, and hence, totally subjective observation: I think newspapers used to be better than they are now.

Oh, I know that almost all papers today are prettier, glitzier, better “packaged” than they were when I started in this business lo, those many years ago. The thing is, I just don’t think they are as good now as they were then. And here’s why:

I think newspapers were better when they didn’t run ads on their front pages. I know that practice has now become generally acceptable and that all the corporate bean-counters see it as a source of “premium revenue,” but it just seems to me, dinosaur that I am, that there are enough pages for ads in any paper without turning Page 1 into a funding source for some executive perk,

And to me, all the rationalizing just doesn’t get it. The once traditional journalistic purity of a paper’s front page is a little like a girl’s virginity. A little strip ad on a once virginal page is like a little strip in the back seat of the car that goes too far. Once it is done it is done and you can’t undo it.

And like my mentor quoted above, I believe that papers were better before all of their reporters turned into “staff  writers.” The job of reporter used to be one of the most respected ones in the business and I don’t know why we did away with it. Besides, the infection connotation of the new title aside, all staff writers still report, but the irony is that they don’t write nearly as well as the plain old reporters used to.

I think newspapers were better when they had Editorial Pages instead of “Opinion” Pages. This change was a concession to political correctness, based on some “expert’s” doctrine that all opinions should be equal and that papers should not be so didactic as to think theirs were special.

And that is just so much hooey. Papers have devalued the worth of their own editorials by equating them with the quite often moronic scribblings of other people—many of whom are generally recognized by their communities as being idiots. People aren’t buying newspapers every day or every week to read the rantings of the loudest mouth at the coffee shop; they want to know what the presumably better informed people at the paper think.

And finally, I think newspapers were better when they had souls.

This one’s a little harder to explain, because like its readers’, a newspaper’s soul cannot be seen, but rather, is felt.

A newspaper’s soul is what sets it apart from others, even when they contain much the same news. A newspaper’s soul is the clarity, consistency, competency and courage with which it attempts to present a complex and sometimes senseless world to the people who depend upon it to do so.

A newspaper’s soul is greater than the sum of its parts. It is its front page and editorial page and local columnists and the way it handles that one, painfully human story in which you, the reader, are invested, and about which you have personal knowledge.

Newspapers, after all, are your every day or every week house guests. And like all other house guests, it seems to me that they are better welcomed and enjoyed  when they display a little class and are generally more fun to have around.

(Ray Mosby is publisher of The Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.)