There's lots of news these days, but fewer papers to print it. (Engraving by Joseph Swain from an illustration by John Tenniel/Punch)
You know the story: The aging Mark Twain was on a world speaking tour for the purpose of raising money to pay off his debts incurred through bad investments. (He spent a fortune backing inventors attempting what would become, under someone else’s patent, the Linotype machine that revolutionized printing and made its backers wealthy.) Word got out that Twain had fallen ill in London and had died, a rumor that Twain reputedly dispelled with a transatlantic cable stating, “Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” The cable has become famous, though false. A little bit of Googling reveals that Twain’s rejoinder actually came from a letter in which he explains that a cousin had earlier fallen ill in London but had recovered and that mistaken reports of Twain’s illness grew out of his cousin’s bout of bad health. Thus the quip actually was, “…the report of my death was an exaggeration.” See it in his own handwriting at twainquotes.com/Death.html—an earlier lesson in reliable sources.
Now it is rumored that after a long illness print itself has died. That, too, is an exaggeration, proven each week by the over 30,000 people who read a printed Flagpole picked up from one of 350 locations around Athens.
Many of those same people may also check flagpole.com for updates or information, but the printed Flagpole is different. It is analog, rather than digital. You can easily find what you’re looking for, and the content is designed by humans for the hands that will hold it and the brains that will take it in. The printed Flagpole is also enhanced by coffee, food and beer and is known to aid concentration, digestion and edification. The printed Flagpole, moreover, has proven vastly superior to the digital in mulching gardens and undergirding the boxes that comfort pets. And, if not used in such other ways, the print edition can be recycled to contribute its fibers back to sustainability.
Still, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, people persist in saying that print no longer matters, that people get their information from their phones, and people do not read newspapers anymore. In many places that is true. Vast news deserts now pock our landscape, leaving towns without reliable news, without trusted voices to tell them what’s going on—what their local governments are up to, what the school board is doing, what’s in the latest SPLOST package, what new restaurants are opening. It is true: Print has died all over America, leaving people to thumb through their phones trying to find out what is going on and, like as not, having the answers supplied by Russian robots.
Now listen, you might prefer to drink a beer with a bot rather than expose yourself to the brilliantly biting wit of Flagpole City Editor Blake Aued, but if you want to know what is going on around town, Blake’s your man. Want to know about restaurants? Try plunging into that thicket on your phone or read Hillary Brown’s Grub Notes. Art? Jessica Smith goes out and eyeballs it for you and reports back in Art Notes. She’s not just phoning it in. The same with local music: Gabe Vodicka assembles knowledgeable writers every week who know what they’re talking about, and given the diversity of our music scene, that’s not easy to dial up. Neither are our comprehensive calendar of events, our opinion columns contributed by people you know, our letters written by readers, our movies and local comics.
Thanks to Flagpole and a couple of heroic writers at the Banner-Herald and the kids at the Red and Black and the boomers at Boom and the punters at Bulldawg Illustrated, print is keeping Athenians informed.
A lot of that information comes directly from advertising. Local businesses, nonprofits and institutions pay for the space to tell you their stories in their own words. Those words carry weight because you read them in a publication you trust. And the cost of those words makes that publication possible. It is a simple equation, but one that in recent years has become increasingly difficult to add up, as advertisers opt to entrust their messages to the digital cacophony fingered onto screens at traffic lights.
As of this week, beginning in 1987, Flagpole has been a trusted local voice for 32 years. Nobody knows better than we do the claim that print journalism is dead, but we continue to work every day to demonstrate that the report is an exaggeration.