I know the correct phrase is “read ’em and weep,” and that it’s more commonly used when someone displays an awesome winning hand in poker (I know this from movies), but I couldn’t escape some weepy thoughts when I saw that the Weekly Reader has bitten the dust — the print version, at least.
To this day I can recall the thrill I felt each week — usually on a Friday — when one of my elementary school teachers would break open a rectangular package and distribute Weekly Readers to the class. I was (and am) a word hog, and I pored over each issue with great curiosity, finding current events from the nation and world explained in terms I could understand. It was, I believe, an important aspect of my educational journey.
In high school we shifted to a publication by Scholastic, which also sold inexpensive paperback books, which excited me even more. Scholastic bought the Weekly Reader from the Reader’s Digest Association after the latter filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Now, though ceasing publication as a standalone, Weekly Reader will get some name recognition and popular features will continue in Scholastic News, a bi-weekly publication for elementary students.
Publications like the Weekly Reader are sold by subscription, of course, and with school budgets being trimmed on what seems like an annual basis, supplemental subscriptions are a tempting target. Hence, the retreat to consolidation and online publishing.
Newspapers for adults also depend on subscription revenue to survive, and the nation is losing daily newspapers on a regular basis. Advance Publications, which owns a network of papers, has announced plans to cut a half-dozen of them from daily to thrice-weekly publication. These include the New Orleans Times-Picayune, which halted daily production this week, leaving New Orleans as the only major city in the U.S. without a daily paper. Readers around the country remember the heroic efforts of Times-Picayune reporters who stayed with the stuff and endured great hardships by staying online and reporting the ravages and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Announcements of print cutbacks are always accompanied by an assurance that more effort will go into maintaining and improving the papers’ online presence, as more readers prefer to get their news from tablets and computers. As an early advocate of online publishing when I was editor of the Biblical Recorder, I know how important that is — but also how challenging. Consumers have demonstrated little willingness to pay for online subscriptions, leaving publishers to rely on ad sales for revenue. But, as advertisements become increasingly intrusive and annoying, publishers have to walk the fine line of wondering when readers will abandon them for a less ad-infested site.
It’s not that we don’t voluntarily sign up for nettlesome stuff: Facebook announced this week that users who access the site at least once per month have surpassed one billion. Those of us who belong to the one billion club know that if you have very many “friends,” you have to wade through a lot of extraneous and often irksome posts to keep up with the people you care most about connecting with — and hope that they will post an occasional link to something that’s good to read.