Your most recent mention about the Reds and the value of being able to read more than 200 words in a row [Hot Type, November 22] has prompted me to share my only-half-developed theory. The problem, in a nutshell, is this: newspapers, by and large, in their current incarnation are increasingly irrelevant to most of the reading population, not just 18- to 34-year-olds. The only reason it's not so obvious is that older readers have grown up with the newspaper-reading habit. They don't subscribe to the newspaper (I posit) because they want to, but because they always have.
The real culprit, I believe, is an atrophied ethos within the journalism community. Too many inches of newsprint are filled with what Larry Olmstead of Knight Ridder calls quarter-turn stories--obscure, incremental developments in obtuse issues nobody cares about anyway. I think the beat system is to blame in large part, particularly in papers where reporters stay on their beats for years. Usually they either become so bored with what they're doing they turn in crap, or (and in some ways this is the more insidious because it seems on the surface that it's a good thing) they are soooo engaged and so expert in their area that the tiniest development that may loom large within their topical area becomes of interest. But the reporter expert fails to connect the relevance to the general audience he/she is writing for (if there is any), and the editors are pleased that they have such an expert on staff but too intimidated by the expertise to ask the simple question, Why do we care about this?