Peter Werbe : October 2017

Peter Werbe : October 2017

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WHAT YOU ARE HOLDING IN YOUR HANDS, BY CONVENTIONAL WISDOM, IS A DINOSAUR, soon to be a fossil. That’s right. We’re told that the Print Age that began in the Fifteenth Century is over, supplanted by electronic devices, with only a few remaining holdouts.

In fact, visiting news sites on one’s phone may soon be outdated technology replaced by holograms appearing with the wave of a hand (or maybe just a thought). Who needs a tree-killing, labor and machinery-intensive, hard-to-deliver, expensive means of communication when the whole world is on our phones?

Well, that would be me, but more importantly, so does this paper’s readership and those of the many other Detroit-area publications that defy so-called conventional wisdom, and see their circulation rising.

What is declining significantly is the corporate media. As an example, The Detroit News and Free Press now limit delivery of their daily edition to Thursday and Friday. In New York City, the drop-off in circulation of The New York Daily News is staggering; from 4.9 million copies of their Sunday paper in 1947 to 235,000 today. No more, “Extra, extra; read all about it.”

News is now garnered instantaneously from the Internet, so the social need for newspapers as an immediate information source is gone and won’t come back.

BUT FERNDALE FRIENDS and the other paper I write for, the Fifth Estate, and a host of other local papers such as the Metro Times, Between the Lines, and several more, serve a need not provided for by the Web.

One important aspect of each paper is that they serve very distinct
communities, and simply having it present is an affirmation of what each publication projects. Most young people grew up with a phone in their hand, so maybe they don’t have a reaction to the important tactile feel of holding a newspaper. But, if you’re reading this, you very well may.

This paper has the culture and residents of Ferndale and the surrounding area all over it, including its advertisements. Most people don’t like ads on TV, which is why programs are recorded and ads get the fast forward function. On radio, as soon as the spot break comes, boom, you hit the button for your second favorite station. But, if you’re like me, you probably read not only every article in this paper to see who is doing what and what is going on, but pay attention to the ads since they are a source of information around the community as well.

Here’s what Stephanie Loveless, Ferndale Friends publisher, had to say about print in a recent conversation I had with her. “I like print. Nobody ever got hacked reading Ferndale Friends or Fifth Estate! We don’t collect cookies, plant spyware or malware, and we make a nice friendly ‘plop’ when we hit your porch. What’s not to love about print?”

ALTHOUGH IT MAY BE IMPORTANT to recognize the Buddhist concept of Impermanence, having back issue available is an important source of history of events covered by a publication. When the Fifth Estate celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015, with exhibitions at the Detroit Historical Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), there was the first edition from 1965 on display, and the 1970 women’s issue which was the paper’s highest circulation. So was the paper’s coverage of the July 1967 Detroit Rebellion, a copy of which is part of the current million-dollar exhibition at the Historical Museum devoted to the uprising.

What’s on your blog is gone in a minute. Well, maybe not from the NSA computers if you are an enemy of the state.

Getting my eyes off of my phone and desktop screen, and onto a printed page is something I look forward to. I can read lengthy articles at my leisure and not get that immediate restless feeling that accompanies viewing Internet articles to move onto the next one. Remember that in George Orwell’s 1984, one of the goals of “Newspeak” was to diminish language and the capacity for full discourse. Although you can publish articles of any length online, how many people are going to read long ones on their phone?

A writer recently submitted an 8,000 word article to the Fifth Estate when we had asked for 1,200 maximum. When we declined to print it, they withdrew it and published it on a news site. It’s doubtful many visitors there read the entire text.
Granted, once you’re set up, online posting is relatively easy, certainly much less than all the effort it takes to publish a newspaper. But how do you know when it’s time to pack it in, like the venerable NYC’s Village Voice did this year after 62 years of print publishing?

Whether to continue printing is actually self-regulating. Newspapers are expensive, so if Ferndale Friends doesn’t get advertising it won’t publish any longer. If the Fifth Estate doesn’t receive subscriptions, it too is history.

For now, though, for both publications, no worry. Same for the others mentioned above. And, yes, I am blowing our own horn. There is a sense of enormous satisfaction that comes with the publication of each issue no matter how many times you’ve seen one roll off the press. You know you’ve connected with lots of people and connected them with each other through what appears on the printed page.

Peter Werbe is a member of Fifth Estate magazine’s editorial collective www.FifthEstate.org.