Sunday, July 19, 2009

what's a 17-letter word for mixed blessing?

You guys, I really love word and number puzzles--crosswords, sudoku, cross sums, word mines, the whole deal. One of my most long-standing hobbies is working through a ratty pile of Dell puzzle magazines. (Never Penny Press; I hate Penny Press.)

It didn't occur to me until I read this post in Good Magazine arguing that the decline of print media may also signal the decline of printed puzzles. Suddenly, I'm terrified: What if Dell Magazines goes out of business? Would I have to turn to Penny Press as the only alternative, however distasteful and what if Penny Press goes out of business too?

My fear of losing my printed puzzles (there is, so far, no evidence to justify this fear) helps me get some perspective on the people who are terrorized by the notion of their local newspaper shuttering its windows and boarding up its doors. In Boston, where I live, the prospect of failure looms large at the Globe--a long-time money sieve--after its parent company, New York Times, Inc., began looking for buyers. The Globe is only the most visible example in a trend toward faltering print media sources as revenues decline amid the emergence of participatory media.

It's a fair bet that the failure of a big chunk of our country's newspapers won't signal the death of journalism; it's not the desire for news but the medium of choice that's unsustainable.

But the readers who are most terrified of losing the Globe are a lot like I am with Dell puzzle magazines: If the Globe stops printing, they'll have to turn to the dreaded Boston Herald (which really is one of the world's lamest newspapers).

If the Herald follows suit, people may resort to the Phoenix, the Metro, or a non-local paper; and the more papers fail, the less likely readers are to find the features that drew them to a particular news source in the first place.

As a kid, I lived in a house that subscribed to both the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. I was drawn to the Freep for lots of reasons, from its larger comics section to its more interesting columnists (Mitch Albom, Susan Ager, Leonard Pitt) to its more readable print type. If pro-print media types were honest, they might say that the real issue is not (just) the potential decline of journalism but their deep affinity for the features of one newspaper or another.

Losing the small delights of a particular print news source means finding new sources of delight, just like I would have to do if my puzzle magazine of choice were to shut down its presses. I suppose if this were to happen, I might start reading books before bed instead, or crochet, or develop some other evening hobby to take up the slack. I might even be the better for it. The puzzle industry might be better for it, too, if it could find more cost-effective ways to deliver its product to the populace. It might, after all, be agathokakological.

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