Newspapers’ real value: A marker of history

Comedian Bill Cosby once said there was no such thing as an atheist. An atheist, he maintained, could go all his life saying there was no god, but once the earth started rumbling, he’ll likely look up and say “Ahhhhhhhhh…I knew you were there all along!”

I feel the same can be said for naysayers of newspapers. Print is dead, they say. Newspapers are dinosaurs. Nobody wants to read them any more. I can get everything I need online, they add.

But I wonder just how many of those naysayers bought a copy of a newspaper last Monday. Throughout the country, newspapers had the death of terrorist Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. Special Forces on Page 1. It was a landmark moment: The mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on U.S. soil is finally caught and killed.  A decade of  fear, angst and caution in the war on terrorism meets a major climax.

Yes, social media and digital news flashed the information worldwide, and the world knew the event even before President Obama could announce it to an eagerly awaiting nation. Page views on news web sites increased ten-fold and discussions on Facebook exploded exponentially.

But the next day, did anyone retain a tweet? Store a Facebook page? Make a news web site their iPad wallpaper?

Nope. People bought a newspaper.

Sales of major newspapers were so brisk that many of them, including the New York Times, Washington Post and Chicago Tribune, printed thousands of extra editions.

Why is that? I believe that, although the digital world provides speed and efficiencies unmatched by print, its content is way too fleeting.

A newspaper, on the other hand, is a marker of history.  It’s staying power is in its inability to change.  Like a road sign on a highway,  it remains in place as time speeds by. Every time you look at it, it recalls the moment you first saw it.

Marketing experts point out that although digital marketing is very hot right now, nothing can replace tangible experiences. Holding something in your hand gives that item value and importance.

Like a favorite photo, a newspaper can mark a historic or emotional event in a way that digital can’t.

Which is why newspapers should not be allowed to die.

If they do, we may lose our best marker for history.

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