Thoughts on the death of newspapers

A reader emails about the media. It is a very good email and raises many issues.

Dear Mr WO,

On a long drive recently, my thoughts turned to the decay of the nation’s newspapers, a topic frequently examined on this blog.

I reflected on the role of the newspaper in the life of our family.

I don’t know about you Mr WO, but the daily paper was a fixture of my upbringing. Spread across the dining table every day, read cover-to-cover by both my parents and myself from around the age of 10. Articles were often discussed, debates sparked and humour shared. The frequent harrumphs of disgust or despair at the latest political intrigues or the mechanisms of the country’s economy were a familiar soundtrack to family life.

I too was raised with a newspaper in the house every morning to be read over breakfast. The rule was Dad would get it first, then we could read it. I cancelled the newspaper in our household before our children got to the age that reading a paper over breakfast like I did was “normal”.

I stayed with close friends recently. They have two teenage daughters who have been raised in a home without a daily newspaper. Both parents are well-educated and the girls have been raised to be caring, lovely young women. But I was shocked at their naivety and ignorance of the world around them. If it doesn’t appear in Justin Bieber’s twitter feed – it simply doesn’t exist.  At their age, I had a much clearer idea of how the world worked and my place in it. I connected with the world through the media that was central to family life, I was expected to read, to reflect and to contribute.  

I’m proud to watch my 10 year old boy – not generally a keen reader – spread out the paper each morning and take in the front section with his toast and milo. But the content that he’s imbibing each day is god-awful! I often read comments on WOBH from people who have cancelled their newspaper subscriptions and wonder if I should too. Or is this throwing the proverbial out with the bath water?  I struggle to see a viable replacement for this medium. Sitting in front of the family computer cuts off the social interaction, and the choice of news websites with relevant local content is as dire as the offerings in print.

Having dinner at the table, without the television running is great for family time. Also setting cut off times for computer use…so no computers after 9pm, reading and relaxing prior to bed.

The problem with local news sites is mostly it is regurgitated rubbish from the existing print sources. There is not the discernment that we require…however, be patient as there is something coming for you that may help…just can’t say what at the moment.

What to do? What do you do? How do you provide access to media for your pod? Should we simply ‘grin & bear it’ and continue to provide the newspaper but talk long and loud about journalistic bias/shallowness/ineptitude as often as we can? Access to media has changed so quickly in my boy’s lifetime, and no doubt will change more by the time he leaves home (hopefully for the better). But in the meantime – what do parents do today, next week and next month? How do we halt the creation of a generation of spoon-fed, left-leaning socialists devoid of any true sense of irony, scepticism or perspective? Are we doing damage in providing them with the daily paper that is so lacking in merit, or does removing it cause equal damage?

Your thoughts/advice/experiences would be much appreciated.

My kids are voracious consumers of information. Whether that is from Discovery Channel, History Channel, Wikipedia, or my daughters preferred method, downloading podcasts. Of course they also read WOBH and participate in story creation and development for the blog. They see and hear how I interact with politicians and other sources and we discuss the issues. Very good discussions were held over the gay marriage issue. Both of my children are very opinionated and I’m not sure where that came from. As a child I was encouraged to voice my opinion, often to my father’s concern. Both of my children likewise are encouraged to voice their opinions and develop ideas out loud.

Other readers may share their views in the comments.


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  • Patrick

    Similar in our household when growing up, not just the newspaper but also the evening news on TV. The focus on world events in both was a source of much learning. Compare both the tv news & the Herald these days to both back in the 1980’s & the deterioration of both is very evident. We are a dumbed down clueless society now captivated by Beyonce’s latest fashion wear or some facebook posting by a non entity wannabe third rate so called celebrity. What hope is there for future generations when we are fed this inane crap by the so called fourth estate – so called custodians of all that is right & proper in the world.

  • ratesarerevolting

    I couldn’t agree more with the post, when I was a child and also as a young man the papers were required reading and the editor and journalists of those times must look at our current press with dismay.

    I didn’t know your kids viewed the blog Cam, i apologise for my intemperate language in the past.

  • conwaycaptain

    When I was young in the UK we had the DT and the Express every day and on Sunday the Sunday editions. Living in Jersey every so often we had fog and the paper plane couldn’t get in and sometimes up to 3 days. In our house it was like 3 heroin addicts going cold turkey and then whammo 3 or 4 days in ONE HIT!!!!
    Paper was discussed.
    Our son now 30 and a political junkie was bought up discussing what was in the papers when the Hortons ran the NZH and what was on the TV news when it wasn’t infotainment. He was home schooled for 4 years and when he went back to school in the 6th form he was AMAZED how little his class ,mates knew of the outside world and what was going on.
    Solution???? Maybe to get the schools to do general knowledge classes on what is going on in the world?? With todays internet everyone should be well informed. Trouble is the children today are not taught history which would open their minds to what is happening and why thing happen and how they happened. I bet damn few of our MPs know anything about the Great Reform Act or the Glorious Revolution so blame the damn poor education system for that.

    • PhantomsDoc

      Great idea but would never work. It would end up being another platform for our socialist teachers union to indoctrinate our kids. There would never be free flowing debate, it would be an one sided issue driven lecture.

      Having said that, my 5th form English teacher asked my class to “write a letter” to the editor on something or other and the class said NO, why couldn’t we write it on something we were interested in. She said ok, what are teenagers interested in???

      She didn’t appreciate it when the class went silent at the wrong time… just when I had just turned to the lass behind me and said SEX.

  • conwaycaptain

    BTW if anyone was in front of The Admiralty Interview Board to be a Midshipman in the Royal Navy they were advised to read the DT for a week prior as they would be asked questions.
    An OC went up in late 43 and was asked what his hobbies were and he said Classical Music. Thinking he would be clever. Asked what he thought of Chopin’s Symphonies he tried to bull his way through and was told Chopin didn’t write any!!! FAILED

  • GregM

    Very good email. Our family made a point to sit down to watch the NZBC news with Bill Toft every night. Even as a little kid it fascinated me, it was my only look at the outside world from provincial New Zealand. Funny thing was, most of the news back then was a few days old, it took that long for the film to arrive by airmail.
    I think that too many people actually don’t give a shit what’s happening beyond their own little world, and those of us that do have very few ways to get the news.
    Every time I walk down the street, dodging people staring at their phones, I realize that despite the advances in technology, their entire world is no bigger than their facebook and twitter feed. I actually feel sorry for them.

  • Chris Blackington

    I banned GayNewsWeekly aka NZ Herald from our house long ago. I consider it is better to be uninformed than misinformed.

  • Miguel

    When my toddler gets to reading age, I plan to change my online subscription to The Economist to a print subscription. It’s a weekly, rather than a daily, but leaves NZ print media in the dust. No celebrity rubbish, etc.

  • malcolm dick

    The world has changed – paper-based newspapers are on their way out.
    But rather than despair, embrace the new ways you can now absorb news. There is now an incredible range of news sources at your fingertips, so you are no longer locked into the narrow views of a single (or few newspapers).
    And an ipad is a far better media than newspaper – and is more sociable too!
    Some apps such as “Newspapers” or Pulse or PressReader give you access to thousands of current news stories from around the world. And with fantastic filters so you get a summary of the things you are interested in without having to pore through a paper publication page by boring page.

  • nudgy

    Why would you buy a newspaper when you have got an app on your phone?

  • I’ll do it my way

    As a youngster the only newspaper we had in the house was the Truth (our Dads way of finding out about what the wharvies were really doing) and we weren’t allowed to read it cos of the nakedness so we really didn’t know too much about what happened in the rest of the world, on a day to day basis. to busy digging the vegy garden, chopping firewood to feed the stove to cook the vegy’s etc.
    I remember waking up one morning and my mother was sobbing, glued to the radio ‘John’s dead’ was all we could get out of her, we thought he was an uncle, till Dad came home from work to console her and look after the younger siblings.
    JFK had been shot, we didn’t know this man but we learnt about him pretty quickly as our Mum sat by the radio all day.
    I was amazed that someone we didn’t know and lived in a different world from us could have that much affect on our lives for that day.
    fast forward 50 years and today I saw a video of a bus driver thrown out the window as his bus crashed, in China this week.
    We read WO for information these days, the grandchildren love it (swearing but not) when I go round saying ‘whale oil beef hooked’ with an Irish accent over some piece of skullduggery WO has uncovered, we wish there was a WOBH paper form to spread on our kitchen table at breakfast time.
    knowledge is important to make well informed decisions, opinions and values.

  • Bryan

    my wife came home a few years ago from her teacher mates about “that kids who could read a computer screen were having trouble reading a moving book or paper ” because it involved a different physical skill of the eye being able to track a moving page, My brother a world leading optometrist was telling me they are getting quite concerned at the high rate of short sightness turning up in under 30 years its used to be 30% at the age were short sighted , it is now getting close to 80% and they think it due to everyone looking at and reading their computer screen and cellphone and it creating real problems longterm for driving so may be the old news paper has its place and you cant wrap fish and chips in an Ipod

  • conwaycaptain

    When I was Mate and we were in the UK the apprentice’s job every day was to go up the road and get the DT and the Express for me and at the weekend (in those days no cargo work) they got the Sunday Telegraph, Times, Observer and that was my Sunday reading.
    Real newspapers not like the NZH and SST.
    Went out to join a ship in SA and it was a Jumbo and there were about 25 people on board and all the Sunday Newspapers!!! Joined the ship in Durban and was set upon as the papers disappeared and everyone read them cover to cover!!!

  • Ururoa

    The greatest attitude we can instill in our kids today is a healthy dose of skepticism. There is such a plethora of information out there the issue is no longer how to find the answer (newspapers/websites etc.). The answer to every answered question is only a google away. The issue is how to sort the wheat from the chaff.

    Actually much like my parents and grandparents; “Question everything!” was their one unwavering line throughout mu upbringing. Even though I am sure they regretted it from time to time when their own decisions were in turn questioned, they stuck to it and instilled that in us, and it has stood me well.

    • Kopua Cowboy

      Sadly, our education system no longer teaches critical thinking.

  • AnonWgtn

    In London many many years ago,I did a newspaper round as a 10 year old upwards for about 6 years.
    7 days a week, early mornings only.
    Two days off a year. – Christmas Day and Easter Sunday, all including rain and snow.
    There were so many papers that we had to sort each round to each customers requirements before we set out (often could you please bring me back a packet of fags when passing !) – Sunday was a nightmare in the size and quantity of different papers.
    We had up to 70 houses, each boy, to put into the door – it could often take at least two tries to get the lot done before 8am. As a 10 year old it was difficult to carry the weight so good old bicycle handlebars helped.
    10 shillings a week, and we were rich as customers were very generous at Christmas time – our annual bonus.
    Today’s Newspapers have no idea.

  • cows4me

    My kids read the newspaper, usually to see what I’m swearing at.

    • Agent BallSack

      Funnily enough the kids know I am watching parliament TV when ever I break out in swearing. And could probably tell you David Shearer is speaking.

  • Cadwallader

    Can someone here assist? The sole reason why I buy a newspaper from time to time is to try to do the cryptic crosswords. Can anybody advise where the NZ Herald and the ODT source their published cryptic crosswords? I shall then try to buy the crosswords direct from the authors. Thanks.

    • Bunswalla

      You can get them both online (Google cryptic crosswords, there are hundreds of sites) or at the bookshop.

  • philbest

    The tragedy here is that we live in an age where you CAN learn more than you ever used to be able to with a given amount of time and effort, if you WANT to. Imagine Abe Lincoln growing up in a log cabin with the internet.

    I am skeptical about the value of the newspaper – OK if you are in Pommie-land and you get the Times, the Telegraph, the Spectator and the Guardian, and work out for yourself where the truth lies. But the Herald and the DomPost? BAH.

  • James Howlett

    Multiple international news sites have, or are beginning to, pay wall portions of their content or at least ask for registration. Presumably they’re under the impression that they produce a product with value and expect people to recognise that. It does not appear that anyone running the mainstream NZ media is under that impression with regards to their own product.

  • Dumrse

    My GM lived with us and was blind. From the age 11/12 it was my job to read her the evening paper from cover to cover starting with hatched matched and dispatched so she knew what her friends were up to. It was the Archers at 4:00pm and the paper from 4:15 to 5:00pm……every day. I have read a paper every day since but like others, cancelled all deliveries in favour of online news.

  • Bryan

    WO My late dad used to make his comment about internet from the bible :
    “ever seeking knowledge but never coming to the truth ” and he also said

    “we know about everything but real wisdom is know when to use it at the right time and at the right place”