THE FINAL PAGE
December 31st, 2030
Well, we all saw this coming. Now, here I am. The final page of the last actual non-digital newspaper being spit out of the now instantly obsolete laser printers here at the last print newspaper left, The Des Moines Register. It is the last day of 2030 and the end of an era. Tomorrow we also go online.
Happy New Year!
Johannes Gutenberg began this journey when he invented the moveable press in 1440. What he started then with the printing of indulgences for the church and his most famous work, the Gutenberg 42 Line Bible, was the conception of a print life which lasted 590 years.
For almost 6 decades the globe’s citizenry has held parchment in their hands to keep abreast of the world, to learn new ideas, to marvel at invention and to despair at mankind’s foibles.
What a glorious run it was! Nationally paid daily newspaper subscriptions in the United States peaked at 63,000,000 in 1987. By 2015 the number had shrunk down to 39,000,000 followed by 15 more years of rapid erosion as newspapers across the land went digital and the lines between newspapers and other video content became blurred.
Today as I am bundled together with the other meagre 26 pages of this final issue of The Des Moines Register and being transported to the mere 40,000 remaining subscribers, who will surely save us as historical artifacts, I reflect upon our heritage and our impact.
For generations newspapers presented the full kaleidoscope of emotions. Within one daily newspaper you would find the joy of birth announcements separated by only several pages from the report of a brutal murder. In the boldest, largest font possible our headlines have celebrated the end of wars and declared the shock of Presidential assassinations.
Avid newspaper readers may have railed at the dark smudges which tinted their fingertips in the 1960’s and 70’s, but I’d wager they now fondly recall them as badges of honor. The ink stained fingers of the well informed.
Oh sure, sometimes we got it wrong, even the headlines, “Dewey Beats Truman” in 1948 . A vast majority of the time though, we got it right and we became the most trusted source for information. The time and effort required to not only gather the story, but also assembling and printing the story gave newspapers space for consideration and correction. Todays frenzy of instantaneous, competing headlines leads to a feeling of confusion and mistrust by their consumers.
But, I don’t want to spend my final day kvetching. Time moves on. Rather, as I head for my own personal – 30 -, I’d prefer to reflect on the joy newspapers have spread across the country down through the decades.
For instance, on how many walls in how many homes, in and around Boston, do you think there hangs a framed copy of the Boston Globe headline for October 28th, 2004, “Yes!!”, celebrating the Red Sox first World Series victory in 86 years? It is usually right next to the John F. Kennedy portrait.
The number of newspaper sales at newsstands across America nearly tripled the normal amount on July 22nd, 1969 the morning the headlines touted Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon.
The importance of newspapers is centuries old. In 1787 Thomas Jefferson declared, “ Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the later.”
Now, even me, little ol’ page 26 of The Des Moines Register of December 31st, 2030, realizes there is more news, by far, being dispensed than ever before by the miracle of binary coding. However, it just feels so much more crass and divisive than what me and my paper compatriots presented. Call me a curmudgeon if you must.
Perhaps I’m just reacting to the final irony of today. For you see, I, page 26, am an obituary page.
– 30 –