big buts at the train tracks

Jon Henner

Jon Henner
November 26
full time father, full time deaf activist, some times writer, most times thinker, all times wandering.


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MARCH 24, 2009 1:58AM


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I often get so caught up in my thoughts and problems that I forget there's a little person who watches most every move I make; when he's not busy destroying (or contemplating destroying) everything that gets in his way.  My gut tells me most parents are like this, except for the crazy, over-achieving ones that somehow get on television with their kids who can read by 15 months, and exist only to make the rest of us feel like shitty parents.

Newspapers have been a part of my morning ritual since I've been able to read.  I started with the comics section and slowly worked my way to the third page, where Mike Royko waited to explain the down and dank meat of journalism - straight from the Billy Goat Tavern.  Royko eventually died and the comics page turned to crap.  But, I still read newspapers because by then, they had become so ingrained with my awakening that I couldn't function without a morning load of information.

Twenty years after I picked up my first newspaper, I still begin my mornings with the front page tossed carelessly somewhere on the kitchen table, usually approximate to where I intend to collapse and graze.  Instead of the Chicago Tribune, though, I have the Arizona Republic.

As I found out this afternoon, Hellspawn has picked up on my paper habit.  The glasses, aren't my fault.  I live with my parents, see, and they're old with old eyes and old eye needs. 

In twenty-four years, when Hellspawn is as old as I am, I know that he won't begin his mornings with the paper, like I do.  He'll have some kind of space-aged wizardy.  Maybe he'll be able to beam the information directly into his head.  Or, maybe he'll handle one of those advanced Kindles, sort of like what they use in Star Trek, The Next Generation. 

I don't know if I feel sad for the gap in his morning routine.  My thoughts on newspaper journlism is akin to Glenn Greenwald's.  Journalists and their publications haven't really distinguished themselves these past twelve years and some times, I can't tell the difference between my morning news and the Drudge Report.  Information on the internet comes much quicker, and with reputable, better sources.  Since overhead tends to be less, I don't have to worry about whether or not the articles I've read were outsourced to India (no offense to any Indian readers.  I just prefer local news to be sourced locally).  And, I can choose blogs that suit my inherent liberal bias.  Talking Points Memo and ProPublica saved my very pasty bacon this past election year.  The Arizona Republic was all McCain, all the time.

I refuse to believe that the death of print journalism will be the end of quality journalism.  People need information and will look for it online, from individual sites that suit their information needs.  And, sites like Open Salon publish a thousand Roykos.

Still, even as I read news from my Blackberry, in addition to local news in the Republic, I can't help but feel nostalgic not for print journalism itself, but for the elements of print: the feel of the paper in my hands and the smell of it, organic and pulpy. 

Especially fresh in from the morning rains and sprung from its plastic cocoon.

Whatever device we use in the future to get our information, I'm pretty sure that no parent would let their destructive toddler hold it.  The newspaper, on the other hand, can stand up to some abuse.

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Great picture! And you're right--newspapers will be long gone. I toyed with canceling my Plain Dealer subscription b/c I don't spend nearly the time with it that I used to, but I couldn't stomach being someone who didn't get a daily newspaper. Just couldn't become one of those people.
Thanks, Lainey. I was preparing dinner for the Hellspawn when, whoomp there it was. I dropped everything and grabbed my blackberry.
That is a ridiculously cute picture (and child) you have there. I'm with you, and Greenwald (well, mostly with Greenwald) on journalism of late and in the future. But I wonder if someday stores will have to start selling reams of newsprint for those who want to print the stories off the Web to read.
I can't fathom a world of derivative writing and broadcasting without reliable sources from which to draw. There has to be some element of syndication (read license fees) for even our favorite on-line sites. Salon, Huffington and the rest must be having quite the round tables these days. Even Newsweek and the like are gravitating toward essayists because the news of the week is stale by the time it arrives. Not having war correspondents taking in facts on the ground or journalists poring through legislation etc. will make for a lame new world of mostly made up stuff. All style and no substance.

(Love the photo.)
That picture is priceless. Now you have to get him a tiny Underwood typewriter.

I can't get along without my news, and still someone comes along with something that I haven't heard about. "'s in the news..." they say, as if I live in a cave.
Stacey: I'd argue that the news world has been all style and no stuff for a long time. The "OMG blow job" reporting of the waning Clinton years, the "OMG Saddam Osama Yellow Cake" reporting leading up to the Iraq invasion, and the "OMG Real Estate, yay!" right before the housing bubble burst.

I believe if journalists hadn't had their collective heads up their asses, we wouldn't be nearly as deep in the hole as we are today. As it stands most news organizations are so petrified of being called liberal that they'll print lies and dreck just to pander to the right wing base.

Zuma: I'm young enough that the Underwood typewriter reference went...woosh...over my head.
Said it before, and I'll say it again: Most journos are overpaid, lazy, pontificating white collar drones who'd be lost if they ever left their insulated newsroom world. Sorry for the mini-rant.
Saturn: I believe there will be a market for self-printed newspapers. It couldn't be that hard to write a script that gathers pertinent RSS feeds and sends them to the printer at a specified time of day, right? 'course that'll be a niche market as most people would rather not pay for nostalgia.
Jon- I'm not sure how a communications scholar would explain this, but I'll try. Newspapers are the antithesis of interactive media. Unlike TV, we can't change channels, unlike the radio we can't tune in another station, and unlike the internet, we can't switch to another website. Basically, with a newspaper, one purchases and then peruses whatever is written in that paper.

The upside to this is that many people, and I include myself in this group, read their local newspaper from cover to cover. If there is an article from the AP concerning a plane crash in India, then the reader will either glance at the story, or read it from start to finish. If there is an article in the sports section about a local university's women's lacrosse team, then the reader may check out the story because it appears in the column next to the box scores of the major league action from the night before. These are examples of how people, especially young people become aware of events that occur outside of their areas of interest.

Granted, I would be upset to read about a tragedy in India, but I would never go to an Indian website to find out if a plane crashed in Mubai last night. In the same manner, a more mundane article about a sport which I have no interest in may not keep me from reading the women's lacrosse story if, for instance, the local team was playing for the national championship.

What I am trying to say is that with newspapers, we learn things "accidentally", if that makes sense. This is an important way for young people to learn about other people, in other areas of the world. Wthout "un-interactivity", I'm not sure that this type of information gathering will ever grace this earth again.
Maddox: You make very good points. The answer to them lays with moderated, user-generated news aggregate sites such as (my favorite), which broadcasts interesting, and not-so-interesting, articles from news-sites and news agencies all over the world. and are other examples of news aggregate sites, but I don't think they're as moderated as Unfortunately, selecting the right news aggregate site requires some technical knowledge and a bit of ambition to find decent news feeds.

The next generation will probably benefit from advances in news aggregation.
In my city, Montreal, the leading newspapers are in french. I subscribed to La Presse for my 8 year old son, who is in french elementary school. He reads the sports section religiously, and other stuff more and more. The other day I mentioned something to a neighbor, about how sad it is, all the newspapers going out of business. She had no idea what I was talking about. People here still read their newspapers. You see it everywhere, and you feel it in the community, the way people talk about the leading stories of the day. The leading LOCAL stories, which I talk about less and less with my English friends as we abandon our increasingly newswired English paper.

I don't know how long this will last, but I'm really glad my son has a few more years of newspaper reading in him.
Hellspawn's criminally cute. Takes after his dad.

Being an accidental geek (hey, it beat selling my ass on the street), I've always been fascinated by the point where information technology doesn't just provide more and faster, but shifts paradigms into new conceptual territory. The way on-your-desk, real time graphic expression of numbers led to the development of chaos math is a good example.

My best guess is that for Hellspawn's generation, knowledge will consist even more of knowing where to find the answers rather than knowing the answers. Even in a simple field, there's already way too much information for any one person to hold. Increasingly, knowledge is what happens on the boundary between the individual and the (pardon me) datasphere.

I just wonder what people will use to toilet train puppies.
Juliet: You're absolutely right. I haven't found a viable local source of news on the Internet. The AzCentral is there, of course, but it's filled with the same problems the AzRepublic is.

Bryan: Flirt.
Let's hope that with the loss of print newspapers we don't lose the PRINT JOURNALISTS WHO wrote them, researched them sat through endless city council meetings and doggedly tracked down stories on the streets, in offices, in dodgy neighborhoods, in police stations and fire stations and people's homes and offices and...well, you get the picture. I am on line all day practically when I am not walking, shopping, working out at the gym and attending the various things I like to do--so I will probably not miss the print newspaper, but we better make sure the integrity and ethical qualities linked with sure and true writing capability of our journalists segways into the on line journalistic explosion we presently experience and will continue to experience in the future.