Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Newspaper, Pina Coladas, and Society

What is the newspaper to you? Let’s say you believe it to be a place for discovering recent happenings in your town, a place for great humor, a place to buy a cheap lawn mower, a place to find a date, or even a place to put your rant about the latest political fiasco, you would be right. However, how often do you actually stop and think about what role the newspaper plays in our society?

If you have heard the song “Escape,” by Rupert Holmes, you know the newspaper is engrained into our culture, and we are quick to disregard the newspaper’s hold on us. Quick,
take a listen. You won’t regret it. Have you noticed that the chorus is actually words from a personal ad in a newspaper. The character in the song even discusses his new found ability to write poetry for a personal ad in the second verse:
“So I wrote to the paper, took out a personal ad
And though I'm nobody's poet, I thought it wasn't half bad”

Based upon an article by Malcolm Willey, “The Functions of the Newspaper,” the newspaper is a social institution, thus placing it next to education, hospitals, religion, and government. Most importantly, the newspaper is an evolving  print technology. Willey believes there are 6 functions of the newspaper that allow us a theoretical view at how the newspaper is similar to other social institutions, in that it grows as society grows.

This isn’t Rupert Holmes, but Malcolm Willey may be on to something when he asks the following about the newspaper, “What are the social and individual needs that it has met and still meets? The newspaper is not a unitary thing.” We can see what Willey was thinking by applying our own experiences with the newspaper to his 6 functions.

1.     News
For me, this is the part of the paper that discusses the goings on of Little Rock, Arkansas. I am not particularly drawn to the news sections, but I do acknowledge their existence, as the news impacts social action. Before the internet, the newspaper was the only way to get the news in writing. Thus, newspapers depended on society to create content.

2.     Editorial
That social action I just mentioned can happen here. Opinion drives this part of the newspaper, and what people say will continue to impact what is seen in this part of the newspaper. Unlike other print technologies, the newspaper allows for culture to continuously impact the end product.

3.     Backgrounding
When something happens in Arkansas, you can bet the Democrat Gazette reporters will be there getting interviews. Can someone tell me why the Razorbacks’ kicker is still on the team, and we are about to play Texas A&M, a strong SEC team. The newspaper is going to make their background content relevant to the focus of society, again, putting the attention on what the readers want. Those readers are you and me.

4.     Entertainment
I go straight to the sports section. My grandpa goes to the crossword puzzles, and my fiancĂ©e just wants the comic strips. No matter our section of choice, we all are looking for the section that just seems fun to us, and the paper drives to make sure we can find it. As a print technology, the newspaper has existed so long because humans are simply creatures of habit, and we love stories with a good plot—even if that conflict is us.

5.     Advertisement
I would prefer not to read all those ads, but there are some good discounts in there somewhere. This section is a way for the newspaper to make a profit, but it is also a section that reveals the things most desired by society. Find a paper from 50 years ago, and tell me what it is advertising. The change from then to today says a lot about who we have become. Also take note of the change in newspaper style. There’s very little.

6.     Encyclopedic
I don’t really need to know 33 ways to clean my house with vinegar and baking soda, but wait… That’s cool. This function acknowledges the random information that is an integral part of the paper. It is also a reflection of the paper’s audience. The random instruction and information will change as society continues to change.

Where do you see the newspaper in culture? Don’t forget the stereotype of the newspaper and coffee, newspapers in front of your hotel door, references to newspapers in music, etc.?

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