I walked out to fetch the morning paper this morning, and the news hit me before I had even slid the thin paper from its plastic sleeve, for the paper was so slight, surely the headline would say something more about the disappearance of newspapers. Almost. The headline in today’s Oregonian heralds the coming forced disappearance of the city’s elderly elms. But the paper continues to waste away, this morning much thinner than my MacBook Pro, possibly a record for the thinnest Oregonian newspaper ever.
I went out this morning to snag The Oregonian from its usual pitch somewhere across the front drive area, but it was nowhere to be found. It was a lovely, solid gold morning. The car windows were a bit frozen still, but the blue and yellow sky was promising the answer e. e. cummings suggested the earth provides to the “how often” questions posed by the “prurient philosophers…,” “science prodded…,” and “religions…squeezing…”: “thou answerest them only with spring,” cummings said.
So I took his answer and coffee cup and sauntered off into the back yard to soak up some morning rays. The grape I had moved yesterday from the back fence to the old patio looks like it likes its new home – more sun!
After a few Thoreauvian moments spent contemplating the grape, the sun, the greens, blues, and yellows of the fine print spring morning, I went back inside to report to Susan the disappearance of the newspaper. She of course, in her offline logic, accused me of cancelling it. I did not cancel it. I like the newspaper.
Susan tried the phone to circulations or delivery or somebody, got busy signals, but then, looking out the nook window, exclaimed, “There’s our newspaper!” “Where?” “On the car window!”
“Wow, what a pitch,” I said, “and Spring Training is underway!”
More evidence of the disappearance of newspapers: page 2 of the “a&e” section of last Friday’s Oregonian contains a small announcement: “Regal Cinemas discontinued its movie listings, which were advertising, from The Oregonian.” Regal has a full menu website with links to Hershey’s, Coca-Cola, 200k likes on facebook, 24k tweeters…; what does it need The Oregonian for? Now playing: “What we will miss when newspapers disappear.”
Newspapers are dying, but as they slide into immateriality, they’re looking for ways to merge into Internet traffic. Regular columnists are forced to blog to establish stronger and closer connections with their audiences. No doubt many regular columnists are already longing for the days when they had the highway to themselves. Blogging, of course, invites comments, which multiply, and comments are easier to post than letters to the editor, which often go unpublished, while comments, rarely edited for clarity or decorum, bring the commenter instant gratification, however short-lived or inconsequential, yet columnists don’t seem to be completely ignoring them. Stanley Fish regularly gets hundreds of comments to each of his posts at the Times Opinionator, as does Nicholas Kristof. Print periodicals are also struggling, but we are beginning to see engaging hybrid forms, offering a kind of communication in the round for readers, with several noteworthy add-on benefits. These benefits go beyond simply allowing on-line access, or putting the print copy on an e-Reader. At the New Yorker, added value on-line features include interactive live chats with authors, videos, audios, podcasts, and slide shows (some of the on-line features do require a subscription).
The newspaper is a mosaic with boundaries, the Internet a mosaic without boundaries. As the newspaper continues to get watered down daily in new irrelevancies suggested by the instantaneous availability of information via the Internet, it continues to lose revenue from defecting advertisers and subscribers. Yet the hybrid forms suggested by the New Yorker have the potential to renew and revitalize public discourse. At the Oregonian, The Stump is essentially a group blog produced by the editorial board. The Stump is an on-line extension of the newspaper’s Op-Ed pages. We begin to see that the salvation of the newspaper may come from removing the mosaic’s traditional boundaries with a hybrid form that will include more interactive reading opportunities.
One of the difficulties of programming the hybrid link from newspaper to Internet is still the newspaper’s limited space. The Stump, for example, prints the beginnings of articles on the editorial page, but readers must go on-line if they want to read the whole article (where they can also comment). I didn’t know my “Sex and the vote” (Nov 4) piece had made it to The Stump until a friend emailed me saying he had enjoyed my little piece in the paper. I wasn’t sure if he had gone on-line to read the entire piece or not. Then again, how often do any of us read to the end of a piece? That’s part of the nature of the newspaper. The mosaic character and layout encourages it; the hybrid link, a link frozen in hard copy, continues the tradition.
The line to the Dylan, Edgefield concert Saturday afternoon wrapped around a hilly path lined with Oregon blackberry canes, around the old, defunct jail, its octopus arms marked with letters, A thru H. We climbed the hill and got in line above cell block A, a lovely view overlooking Edgefield, in the distance the Columbia River, and across the river the Washington hills below a few pillow-white clouds. We looked up at the Edgefield water tower, and could just see the roof of the old hotel, and on the hill above us tall thin poplars rose into the baby blue sky. The line was full of freewheelin’ older folks, everybody kicking back, reading, talking, drinking beer and wine, and waiting in line. Some of the folks passing to the end of the line looked fairly worn out.
We waited for two hours, drank a beer sitting in beach chairs up on the hill overlooking the empty jail, folks climbing wearily up the hill and past us on their way to the end of the line. Finally the line started to gather up front and folks broke camp all along the path and we walked single file down to the Edgefield amphitheatre where there were food booths and beer and drink tents and honey buckets outside the grassy theatre area that led down to the stage.
We found a good spot at the top of one of the rises, on the edge of one of the greens, for the amphitheatre is set up across a few of the holes of the pub course. It was a lovely evening, warm and quiet. The amphitheatre filled while an opening act of a couple of young blues players did their best to wail the crowd, then a long pause, and then John Mellencamp and his band came on. Mellencamp and his band had fun; he said so in his last song, an old call and response tavern rocker. It still worked he said, “because it’s fun!” And it was.
Darkness fell and the McMenamin’s artificial moon went up, so folks could find their way to and from the concession and honey bucket area. Half a day is a long time to ask a 60-somethin’ to go without a trip to the honey bucket. In Jeff Baker’s Oregonian review, he doesn’t mention the line, and he wonders why a few folks left early, before Dylan finished: “…not responding to what they were hearing or maybe just a little chilly,” Jeff says. He probably didn’t have to wait in line for the Oregonian sponsored concert. Most of those folks leaving early had been on the grounds at that point for around 7 to 8 hours. We got in line at 3, thinking we were early, but walked past a couple hundred people before we found the end of the line, up on the hill, above the old “farm” jail, above cell block A, with the lovely view of Edgefield and across to the Washington hills. Not complaining here; just getting the story straight. Those two hours we spent in line, sharing a beer and the view, talking about the jail, and about what Mellencamp and Dylan might play and say, and sharing the wait with the others in the line…those two hours might end up being as memorable as the concert.
Mellencamp had played a varied set, singing “Cherry Bomb” alone on stage holding an acoustic guitar but not playing it, singing the song to the accompaniment of the crowd clapping. Then he sang a new song with acoustic guitar, “Save Some Time to Dream.” Dylan went infamously electric at the 1965 Newport folk festival, but he’s showing no signs of reversing. Susan and I have both listened to a lot of Dylan over the years, yet we had fun guessing what Dylan song they were playing – he rarely plays the same song the same way twice. The sharp-suited band cooked up a delicious garage stew on “Highway 61 Revisited.” After each song during the Dylan set the stage went dark, like the empty space on vinyl. It went dark one last time before the band came back for “Like a Rolling Stone.” Then the band lined up shoulder to shoulder and took a bow and walked off stage single file. Dylan had said only one thing to the appreciative crowd before introducing the band: “Thank you, friends.” Thank you, Bob, and you too, John. For some of us, this could be the last time we wait in the line; meantime, like Mellencamp, we are saving some time to dream, from the song:
“Save some time to dream / Save some time for yourself / Don’t let your time slip away / Or be stolen by somebody else / Save some time for those you love / For they’ll remember what you gave / Save some time for the songs you sing / And the music that you’ve made….”
And meantime, enjoy the line, and don’t worry about getting too close to the stage. Wherever you are, you’re close enough.