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A good start to answering these questions is Nicholson Baker's Double Fold. Written in the transition between microfilm and the digital age, it raises a number of highly pertinent questions about how the role of newspapers in forging and maintaining national, regional, and local identities. In addition, the technology of newspapers is a fascinating subject to consider, as are the various press networks that supported these newspapers. The ephemeral, disposal nature of papers means that their survival in large quantities (in former times as part of national and institutional holdings) is remarkable -almost you might say- unnatural. So when we are looking at papers, what I feel they embody most is the 'spirit of the age' in which they were produced - they are of their time - and as such give us insights into our social conditions and mental world like no other sources. While digital scans of old papers can be valuable as complementary to the scarce and often fragile originals, they cannot and should not replace them. Understanding the news in the form that it was conveyed to readers is vitally important. For example, you can only really understand, the genuine power of the early rotogravure pictures of WWI in the New York Tribune Graphic Section, by looking at them: they simply do not have the same force in digital versions (and the Library of Congress has tried). I am fortunate to have possibly the best private collection of these rotogravures, and I remember when first looking at them, they simply blew me away with their detail, ambiance, and clarity. There are also of course different arguments about linearity and non-linearity in terms of reading (digital versus original-format). This is interesting. When relying simply on the digital copy, we miss things that we tend to see when we browse the originals. For example, a glance at the 50-year run of the French-language Journal des Debats from 1880s - 1930s, instantly shows how the format size gradually reduced from a massive elephantine format to almost a modern tabloid form. Newspapers are of course tremendously important as repositories of the banal and trivial, which, according to the reader can suddenly become highly important or fascinating: I also love to browse the Classified Ads section to get a handle of the pulse or an era or a country.
My father was the chief photographer for our local town newspaper and my first job was stuffing advertising inserts and delivering papers in the neighborhood. A reporter covered an event, wrote the story, which was type set and printed overnight and delivered and read the next day - that was as fast as possible in the 1900's. I used to read every page of the newspapers but now that we live in the micro moment of the digital age, news from the other side of the world is available to us in minutes over the internet on our cell phones anywhere. Therefore yesterdays stale printed news is only desirable to the senior citizens who grew up with it and papers that are not online have already
died or are about to. Why pay for a classified ad when craigslist is free. Why waste the paper and other resources for marginal results ? A few might survive but newspapers and life as we knew it are are a thing of the past.