Cherry Blossoms and Newspapers

Spring  is arriving in  fits and starts this year—sun, blue skies, cherry blossoms, rain, cold winds, sun, blue skies, cherry blossoms. The cherry blossoms have burst all around Washington and just as precipitously will fall from the trees, leaving a pink and white carpet over the city for a day or two until the winds blow the petals away.  This coming weekend as the blossoms peak, the city will fill with blossom watchers, the Jefferson Memorial in particular where the cherry trees ring the Potomac River. Whether the weather is warm, cold, rainy, snowy, or sunny, the cherry blossoms herald the official start of spring for Washington, D.C.

A year ago as the cherry blossoms arrived, we were in the throes of the presidential primaries. The debate then was whether words and ideals were enough from candidates, whether they would lead to effective action. Today we watch actions every day from the new administration. We wait to see how effective the actions will be for the economy, for education, for international trade, for peace. Unfortunately the capacity to report and investigate and evaluate government’s actions is increasingly hampered as newspapers around the country struggle to survive.

Last month Denver’s 150-year old Rocky Mountain News shut down as have 120 other US newspapers this year.  The Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia InquirerBaltimore Sun, and Minneapolis Star-Tribune have all filed for bankruptcy.  Approximately 16,000 American reporters have lost their jobs in the last year and even more losses are expected in 2009. Papers are closing bureaus, in particular their Washington bureaus. Even the great gray lady The New York Times is reported to be struggling and furloughing staff, cutting pay and laying off people. The Washington Post is buying out contracts of hundreds of its reporters and trimming its staff.

In the U.S. Congress this past week legislation was introduced to allow newspapers to operate as nonprofit organizations. Whether this proposal is a solution or has a chance of passing is unclear, but politicians, who are not the natural allies of the press, recognize that the essence of a strong democracy is a vibrant fourth estate.

This past Friday, March 27 the newspaper where I began my career printed its last daily paper. That same day a close friend, who used to work for that paper and for the past decades has been a correspondent for another news organization, worked her last day as her Washington bureau closed down. Another friend has taken the buyout at The Washington Post, and another is hanging on at one of the papers that has now filed for bankruptcy. All these women are top professionals of thirty plus years experience. I worry that while we have more news and information than ever on the web and on cable TV, we will have fewer professional journalists who know how to dig for and evaluate information. Many of the other outlets in fact rely on newspapers for the information they disseminate.

The paper where we all started–The Christian Science Monitor, the 100-year old international daily newspaper, was one of the first major papers to announce the end of its daily print edition last fall. The Monitor will now publish every day on line and is launching a weekly print newsmagazine. At the forefront of what many news organizations are facing as the demographics of news delivery shifts to the internet, the Monitor is embracing the change in the hope its model will work. I’ve seen the new weekly magazine, and it is dynamic.

I should probably now link back to the cherry blossoms. Hummm…well, I am a blogger in this space, no editor to ensure that I make that artful frame, so let me use the moment to plead instead for the necessity of the professional journalist and editor and leave it to readers to comment, perhaps offer their own frame for the cherry blossoms.


  1. Deena on March 31, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Your comments about newspapers and journalists are interesting, yet somehow sad. I’m afraid the “art” of insightful, thought provoking reporting is going the same way the art of writing lovely correspondence (letters) has gone. Too much to do in too little time, so we resort to short emails to stay in touch. Our hectic lifestyles rob us of the opportunity to be gracious. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Susan Howell on March 31, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    At 97 years, the DC cherry blossom tradition is going strong.
    Communication is going strong too, but still it’s hard for those of us who’ve grown up with printer’s ink (even hot lead!), galleys and “stet” to see print newspapers become obsolete.
    That said, it’s even more important now to have trusted, unbiased internet news sources that will go deeper than screaming headlines and personal opinions. Hopefully these venerable, paperless newspapers will become even stronger as they invest more resources in their global, up-to-the-minute online versions.
    Meanwhile, I look forward to ongoing insights from your blog!

  3. susan osnos on March 31, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    I don’t think Americans realize what they are losing, and once it’s gone, it won’t be back. Yesterday, perhaps the biggest news day ever in Detroit, both papers had discontinued home delivery…. –Susan

  4. Jill on April 1, 2009 at 10:27 am

    You ask us to make the frame for you.  But the frame is in place.  The cherry blossoms bloom and fall.  The newspapers bloomed and are now falling.  But only in print form.  They will emerge again, a new spring, in electronic form.
    More important, I am worried about the seniors getting laid off. Where will they go, what will they do?  And will we get fragmented news from kids raised on computer speak?     –Jill

  5. Ciel on April 1, 2009 at 10:28 am

    Your  blog on Cherry Blossoms and the Newspaper relayed some news of cheers as well as sadness for the press population—I could only hope that the uncertainty that gloom our thought will feel an improvement in the economy soon.   –Ciel

  6. Shelley on April 1, 2009 at 10:30 am

    The end of the daily print Monitor is
    sad but put in the perspective
    of all the other newspapers maladies, I
    am hopeful the internet daily and
    weekly print Monitor will be

  7. Elisabeth N on April 1, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Sad news about the newspapers shot down. We have been discussing this phenomen concerning the newspaper situation in USA here in Finland too. And you are right in commenting about the digging and evaluation of information. Of course you can go to the web , but still…longer,analytichal articles might me lost there.
    –Elisabeth N

  8. Gretchen on April 2, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    I still take the Dallas Morning News, so I am trying to do my part.
    I majored in Government at Texas Tech.  We were required to take the Christian Science Monitor.  It is/was such a wonderful source of information and current events.
    DMN  had an ad where a man comes on his front porch in his pajamas and yells to his neighbors – “What was the score of the game?  Who died? . . .”  Just the info we need on the printed page.      

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  13. Larry on August 26, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    It is sad to see news papers shutting down. But, I think that the internet has brought so many new opportunities today. Many people have learned how to monetize a blog. I think news papers have the same opportunity an I truly hope they do.

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