The Circle

Posted on 07. Dec, 2009 by in Uncategorized

“I am very sensitive to the fact that my New York is only one New York, and that a successful paper should reflect all the cities out there.” – Wendell Jamieson

I write to praise newspapers, not to bury them.

Richard Perez-Pena is already on the Death and Burial of News Organizations Great and Small beat for The New York Times, and his sources are far better than any I can muster.

While my experience, like most, began with the physical newspaper with which most are familiar, it has grown to include the homepages of various papers beamed to my laptop. While the word ‘newspaper’ obviously means ‘tree pulp on which true information has been printed,’ I prefer a more existential definition.

-Warning! Math metaphor alert! –

A circle is nothing more than a line turned back on itself, without beginning or end. A line is nothing more than a collection of individual points laid along the same path that have the illusion of continuity. So a circle is not really a thing in and of itself, but a portrait of a series of points surrounding a central radius.

A newspaper is no different. Whether it arrives as a sheaf of dead trees on your doorstep or as a flash of hypertext in your web browser, a newspaper is an enormous group portrait of individuals whose lives play out around a defined center. That center can be small as a neighborhood or expand to the world entire, but no matter what, newspaper readers get an accurate impression of the circle through portraits of the points.

If the world is a circle, then newspapers show us both the big picture and the small, often simultaneously. This ability to show many perspectives while still presenting a single coherent picture made Picasso immortal; we take it for granted in newspapers.

Wendell Jamieson edits the City Room blog at The Times. His quote above perfectly expresses my sentiments about the value and necessity of newspapers. All the people of New York have their New York, all the reporters covering New York have their New York, all the editors reading the reporters’ copy have their New York, and together they form a daily reflection of the city, of the city’s place in the state, of the state’s place in the nation, of the nation’s place in the world.

When I click on the City Room blog, however, it’s free. Great for me. Unfortunately for the Sulzbergers and their employees, there are 15 stories posted on the blog, supported by three small advertisements. This is untenable, as the mounting pile of newspaper carcasses shows. I want to continue to be able to read both the master narrative of the world and the smaller stories of the people who compose it. I consider it as important to understanding as mathematics, as valuable as any painting.

Please make me pay for news. I’d much rather continue to read The New York Times than give its eulogy.

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