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The [Tuesday] Papers

Declining readership isn't the fault of newspapers, but the fault of too many stupid young Americans who don't keep up and thus have put our democracy in peril.

At least that's how I read today's argument ("Why Johnny Can't Be Bothered") put forth by labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan and Chicago Tribune deputy managing editor Jim Warren on the Tribune's Op-Ed page. And hey, who knows more about how badly misguided young people are out of step with vital institutions that are in no way crumbling than a labor lawyer and a newspaper editor.

Geoghegan and Warren call for a concentrated effort to teach young students to read the newspaper, possibly by requiring four years of civics courses or by state school systems producing a daily newspaper for students culling articles from other newspapers around the state.

Yes, I can see how excited students would be about that. Get those subscription cards ready.

I could suggest that newspaper editors take some civics courses themselves to learn why it is important to cover individual legislative and aldermanic campaigns, which incredibly the two major metros here do not do (low in the link). Or I could suggest that young people teach folks like Geoghegan and Warren how to read the Internet.

Instead, I suggest that after reading Warren and Geoghegan's piece, check out the Tribune's Digital Page, which appears every Tuesday, just to let the realization sink in that except for one page once a week, the rest of the paper is still stuck in analog.

Then marvel at how many newspaper photos are still in black-and-white, for example, and muse about the seemingly random collection of irrelevant stories jammed into awkward spaces that appear each day in, say, the Metro section, such as today's "Home Invader Sought In Assault on Woman;" "Harvey Car Dealer Settles Workers' Suit Over Closing;" and "Stabbing Victim Found In Overturned Car."

Head over to the comics page and check out the hilarious punchlines to today's "The Humble Stumble" and "Sherman's Lagoon."

Remember that Jim Warren created Q.

Be sure to get your fix of wisdom about the war in Iraq by reading the Chicago Sun-Times's editorial today, "Effective Central Government Is Only Way To End Iraq Chaos." (Hmm, maybe by installing a strongman . . . )

Look at the clever artwork accompanying a Letter to the Editor in the Sun-Times written by the state auditor general and wonder if the original was in color, and why it isn't reproduced on the paper's Website.

Then pick up your free copy of RedEye, whose cover today is given over to blonde bombshell Rebecca Romijn, star of the new WB show Pepper Dennis, though the story "Eating Disorders Flare Up During Bikini Season" gets a plug on the front page too.

Reflect on the good old days when cities had several daily newspapers to choose from and didn't deliberately cut off circulation to cut distribution costs and upscale the demographics they could sell to advertisers.

And then write about how today's generation of young people--who can create sophisticated Web sites in their sleep and seemingly program trips to the Moon on their cell phones--just don't get it, and won't until we pound it into them.

Believe it or not, I don't necessarily disagree with everything Geoghegan (I'm a big fan of his books, particularly The Secret Lives of Citizens) and Warren say. But the newspaper industry's readership woes, which in fact come with huge if not obscene profits, are largely self-made, and hardly because each generation of America's youth is more brain-dead than the last.

Accompanying the Geoghegan/Warren story is a (black-and-white) photo from the 1940s of a boy reading a newspaper. Or, more specifically, he's reading the comics page, which looks nearly identical to today's newspaper comics page except the old one is better because the artwork and dialogue is actually large enough to be legible.

Why should we pine for this boy's reading habits of the past over the habits of this boy today, who is instead playing a far more graphically- and narratively-sophisticated video game and having a far richer experience than a three-panel comic?

I'm all for giving the entire nation a giant civics lesson. Let's start here in Chicago where pride in political corruption exceeds pride in the White Sox and racial harmony means tamping down any talk of the interplay of class, housing, education, and our still-largely segregated neighborhoods. Not to mention the refresher course the Tribune Company could use when it comes to their own dedication to public service, reasonable executive compensation or stewardship of the Cubs and Wrigley Field (not to mention getting rid of its editorial cartoonists).

If the newspaper industry keeps spending $50 million on ad campaigns that look like this (without, as well, placing them on Websites where young people are) no amount of civics homework will make young people read their product.

Which is to say, the ads accurately reflect the staleness of the industry they promote, as well as the kind of thinking behind complaints like that of Geoghegan and Warren.

Today's Recommended Reading
Mary Mitchell connects the current Duke University lacrosse team rape controversy to the recent local trial here of Adrian Misbrenner in an unexpected way.

Why there's a rash of oven-door thefts in South Bend.

The latest on an alleged Iraqi spy in Des Plaines. You can read the original indictment here.

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Posted on April 4, 2006


MUSIC - The Week In Chicago Rock.
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POLITICS - Trailer: Swing District.
SPORTS - Ryan Pace's Narratives Are Killing Us.

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PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - The Sears Motor Buggy.


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