Where does an era begin or end? I ask myself the question as I think back over previous decades when the era of printed news and information, evident for around five centuries, seemed endless. According to psprint.com it began with a news sheet printed in Mexico in 1541.

The unravelling of the era of print news is an enigma. Somewhere it lost the interest of younger generations who, having been born into the age of handheld computers and the internet, opt for the continuous stream of news and entertainment now available onscreen or on air at the press of a button. The era of printed news has prevailed over several lifetimes but current trends suggest it’s reign may be coming to an end.

With The Herald-Palladium now delivering via U.S. Postal Service, our household copies will be delivered in the afternoon, changing the early morning reading habit to later or a switch to the online version that has become more user-friendly over the years. Surely there are eager readers out there for whom the modern electronic options are not available or manageable. What of news clippings saved for future reflection? No doubt they are being saved to electronic files and albums which, like the files of millions of photographs, will fade into the past unnoticed after a few decades.

The satisfaction of seeing a newspaper or a map spread out before me is being replaced by the ability to Google anything from recipes to distant obituaries and live geographic observation, not to mention leaving the planned road trip decisions to a global positioning system. I still want the map so I can see the greater picture while appreciating the help of the more focused GPS to be ready for the location of the next exit.

The joy of reading a great picture book or riveting chapters capturing the imagination seems not gone but greatly limited. It still boggles the mind to see toddlers using personal electronic devices in place of real life-expanding experiences. I fear their options for learning have been seriously reduced to screen-size fantasy. Less central are the manipulative toys and picture books stimulating creative minds that evolve into engineering genius and other attractive professional exploits. Much reading for children and youth done via electronic device appears to be focused on super heroes and villains. I hope I’m wrong or perhaps overlooking the value of the stories they depict. Maybe they are promoting the values of good over evil, kindness over brutality, and hope for the hopeless as did the print classics of previous decades.

Sunday and daily cartoons, a constant for the better part of my lifetime, are somehow less funny on screen than in print. Yet while many things in print are disappearing, have you noticed the abundance of 2020 calendars, desk planners and the like being snail mailed by various charities this year in hopes of receiving donations? Their transition to electronics is obviously still under question.

The realities of the decline of print news for those who compile, write and produce it must be staggering. The tangible shrinking of newspapers like The Herald-Palladium and my Sunday extravagance purchased for a broader view, the Chicago Tribune, coupled with increasing amounts of advertising pages are indicators of the struggle. Readers don’t seem interested in the preservation of trustworthy journalism, the news people whose jobs have been lost and those who have had to take on increased workloads to fill the gap of reduced income caused by declining numbers of subscribers. Until there is change confronting us, we take our newspapers, print and non-print, for granted without putting much thought into the accuracy and relevance needed for any community. More entertaining, less accurate and thorough reports are weakening our communities, thus our world. Podcasts and radio programming are filling a gap but only for audiences adept at and accustomed to using them.

The need for answers to journalism’s five basic questions – who, what, when, where and why – will not disappear. As Henry Steel Commager noted in 1951, “The (New York Times) news is the raw material of history: It is the story of our own times.” The question is, upon what are citizens relying for that raw material?

Melinda Stibal lives in Coloma. Her email address is: 2mstibals@comcast.net.