By TOM HONIG
One of my favorite wall posters from years ago was a picture of the San Francisco Chronicle and a mug of coffee with the caption "Caen and Coffee." Everyone in the greater Bay Area knew what that meant -- an interlude with the great Chronicle columnist Herb Caen and a few minutes with your coffee to get caught up on the latest gossip.
Coffee and reading the newspaper seemed like a perfect match. That's why this news hit so hard: Starbucks will soon stop selling newspapers in its cafes. Sigh.
It figures, though. The ubiquitous cellphone has taken the place of newspapers at public places -- cafes, restaurants and the like. All during my working years my favorite getaway during the day was a quick lunch or snack at a local eatery. And I always took a newspaper or magazine with me. No longer. I sit there just like everyone else, staring -- maybe gawking is a better word -- at Twitter, Facebook or even just my e-mail.
Let's face it. Most people -- especially on the younger side -- just don't read the paper. Starbucks isn't ending newspaper sales just to be difficult. If the papers just sit there on the shelf and then go into the recycling bin at the end of the day, who can blame them for cutting back?
In a New York Times story about Starbuck's decision, the only people expressing regret were the older folks. More typical was this reaction: “I think it makes total sense; it’s not a surprise. I don’t think there is any upside to keeping the paper. If you look around in this Starbucks, there’s no one buying a newspaper. It’s just another casualty of change. Another casualty of the internet.”
That sentiment is particularly stark for us old-time print people. Many of us spend our post-newspaper hours venting at the horrible hedge funds that now control most small- and medium-market dailies. And yes, they deserve any enmity they get. But there's also the realization that the newspaper that so many of us took pride in producing is just, well, not so marketable anymore.
The impact of the lessened role of words in print is huge. As I've written previously, social media and dramatic video on news shows appeal to emotions, while the written word is better at explaining events in a more rational way.
That's why I was impressed by a sentiment expressed by a radio journalist by the name of Nikki Medoro of KGO radio in San Francisco. Writing on Twitter -- yes, she acknowledged the irony -- she asked: "Could the answer to 'how we got here' be the rise of social media and the demise of newspapers? Could the solution be as simple as quitting social media and buying an actual paper?"
Then she adds: "I know it's silly that I'm on posting this ON social media ... buy ya know ... that's where we are."
I appreciate her sentiment. Maybe newspapers are still worth fighting for.