Pick it up and read it!

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By David Whitlock

No, I don’t mean the Bible, although I read it every day.

But for now, I’m referring to the newspaper.

“Ahh, the newspaper,” you say. “You mean that old dinosaur of the printed era that’s somehow managed to stay alive, despite its shrinking advertising revenue and a dwindling subscriber base?”

Despite rumors of its demise, the newspaper is surviving, and in some instances, thriving.

I know that’s the exception and not the norm. According to a 2010 Harris Poll, one in 10 American adults say they never read a daily newspaper, and only two of five read a daily newspaper, either online or in print.

That’s really not surprising, since Americans read less today. According to a 2007 study by the National Endowment of the Humanities, reading levels among young adults has plummeted over the last two decades. The average person between ages 15 and 24 spends two to two and a half hours a day watching TV and seven minutes reading.

So, I was shocked but probably shouldn’t have been when I read that The Times-Picayune, the paper of New Orleans, La., established in 1837 and winner of several Pulitzer Prizes, will scale down its print edition to three days a week this fall, as will several other newspapers owned by its parent company.

Newspapers have long been a part of my life. Many times, after a day in elementary school, I would wait on my front porch for the afternoon delivery of the Altus Times-Democrat. We subscribed to several newspapers. Back then, the Daily Oklahoman had a morning edition as well as an evening edition, The Oklahoma City Times. I devoured both, as well as the morning edition of The Lawton Constitution. Occasionally, Dad would purchase the Times Record News of Wichita Falls, Texas, but I looked with skepticism upon anything from the Longhorn State.

Sunday afternoon, having feasted on Mom’s delicious pot roast, was given to reading the newspaper. My brothers and father would divide out the sections of the paper, and soon they would be strewn about the den, one section on the couch, another across the recliner, each waiting to be read by one of us.

Today, I subscribe to several newspapers, and whenever I’m visiting another town or city, I make sure to get a local paper, for each has its unique features reflective of its constituency.

Newspapers keep me aware of the world in which I happen to live.

As blogger Tracey Dickerson has noted, it was the great Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, who in an interview with Time Magazine in 1966, advised young theologians “to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”

Barth was reminding believers that although they are not to be of the world, they are yet in it, and as such, they should know the world in which they live. Moreover, Christians should be a discerning, reflective people.

But believers certainly haven’t cornered the market on thinking. Whether you think like a theologian or are simply a thinker, the newspaper can stimulate your mind to a broader awareness of what’s going on in the world around you, whether it’s news about the local community, municipal government, available jobs, the nation or broader geo-political issues that affect us all, often unknowingly.

Of course, when Barth spoke those words, the Internet didn’t exist, nor did CNN or Fox News. We have access to news 24/7, through dozens of portals, more news than we can digest.

It shouldn’t be a question of either/or, but an affirmation of both the Internet and the printed page.

The question we must ask ourselves is, what’s the quality of the news reports we are getting? Are we receiving information based on thorough investigative reporting?

It’s easy to watch any number of news talk shows. I do on occasion. While interesting, and often hosted by knowledgeable and talented people, they are usually, by the very nature of the ratings race, skewed toward drama, hype and superficiality.

The challenge for newspapers is to provide the financial resources for quality reporting, whether it’s reporting by a local or regional paper or one of the major dailies.

How then can newspapers survive? Billionaire Warren Buffett, who is in the process of purchasing 26 daily newspapers and has had success with others, writes that newspapers fail when one more of the following factors are present: the town or city has more than one competing daily, the newspaper is no longer the primary source of information for the readers or the town or city does not have a “pervasive identity.”

Surviving and even thriving is a challenge, but it’s worth the try, and that brings me back to Karl Barth. I’ve got my Bible in one hand: I’ve read where it will last forever. It’s the newspaper that concerns me, for without it, my application of the Bible to the world would be diminished.