V I E W P O I N T S
What is a newspaper?
How the hell should I know? I’m a (bleep)ing German shepherd.
Sorry for the surly tone! I contracted this skin condition where I spent most of the fall with my nose buried deeply in my fur, shredding black tufts onto the carpet while emitting stifled little snorts—mph!—that drove Alpo, the publisher of this newspaper, to frothing mania. She procured me steroids from the vet which helped with the itch but magnified my high-strung personality to the point that nobody was getting any sleep. I may have chewed up a few sofa cushions. It happens. Now the old girl has left home altogether and was last seen dozing blissfully under an interstate bridge where she reportedly found the “white noise” of the semis barreling overhead strangely restful.
I call her “Alpo” because of her function in my life. You may call her “the local press” or simply “The Planet” because of her function in yours. Anyway she decamped leaving water and plenty of dry food but, as far as guidelines for her planned editorial, only the enigmatic words, “What is a newspaper?”
And that’s what’s got me licking my butt sullenly under the porch. I have helped Alpo with The Planet on occasion, writing a horoscope here, an advice column there. Hey, in a family biz, everyone pitches in, right? You sniff my poop for evidence of nutritional deficiencies, I’ll sniff your crotch to ascertain identity and gender orientation. But now Alpo has left yours truly the all-important task of writing the yearly SAVE THE NEWSPAPER, SEND CASH editorial with no more guideline than “What is a newspaper?” I tell you, it’s a dog’s life!
Anyway, I wasn’t sure of the definition of “newspaper” beyond “something puppies pee on during the housebreaking stage” so I looked it up. Merriam-Webster’s definition starts out “a paper that is printed” so I stopped right there. Call me a dumb animal but I ain’t a deaf one and that’s what I’d have to be not to have heard Alpo bleating that The Planet is, too, a newspaper, despite the fact there is nothing there for a puppy to pee on.
So on I went to Wikipedia, which told me: “A newspaper is a periodical publication containing written information about current events.” That's more like it.
I read on a little further to learn that newspapers began in the 1600s as information sheets for merchants. Later they became more general-interest and useful in disseminating information to the public at large. And ultimately, good newspapers and an informed public became vital tools for ensuring truth, justice and the American Way. (I read all this because I was interested. They say it was a cat that curiosity killed but why do you reckon dogs are always getting bitten on the snout by copperheads? We lean down to sniff hello and ask, “Hi! I’m a dog. What kind of animal are you?”)
But I think the part of the Wikipedia entry Alpo would want me to point out is this bit: “Newspapers have traditionally been published in print (usually on cheap, low-grade paper called newsprint). However, today most newspapers are also published on websites as online newspapers, and some have even abandoned their print versions entirely.”
In Alpo’s case, she did not abandon The Planet’s print version, she abandoned hope of finding anyone crazy enough, in today’s shrinking-newspaper market, to lend her the money to start one. Alpo instead kicked off The Planet as an online newspaper with no money at all, just enough room on her credit card to pay the hosting fee for a cheap website and the conviction that nobody alive could cover Dade County like she could.
Does that remind anybody else of Alice in Wonderland, when the queen said there was nothing like flamingos for playing croquet? Or was it the king who said there was nothing like eating hay when you’re feeling faint? (Sometimes I get my literary references mixed up, hello, I’m canine.) One way or the other, the point that got made was that while there might be lots of things better than flamingos for playing croquet (or better to eat than hay), there is nevertheless nothing like them. And in that sense I think we have to let Alpo have her way here. You could make a case for prior newspapers covering Dade better but it is safe to say none of them had advice columns written by Hitler.
Which brings me to the next point I think Alpo would make about The Planet: that it not only qualifies for newspaperhood under the “periodical publication containing written information about current events” definition, it also contains relevant local features. Not just fun-filled and fanciful ones like advice written by me, Socrates and Hitler and not just cooking columns and gardening advice. The Planet also regularly provides full-length, well-researched and thoughtfully written stories about the people, businesses, institutions, wants, needs, issues and history of Dade County and its environs. No other Dade publication can make any such boast, though it is true some are more satisfying to pee on.
And back to current events for a minute: Another thing I hear Alpo quacking on about—hey, these big velvety ears ain’t just for looks, buster!—is that not only does The
Planet cover every news event in Dade County in excruciating detail, in many cases it is the only media outlet that covers them at all. Alpo does not have to fight for butt space when she attends court proceedings, IDA meetings or tax hearings. Planetary as her chair warmer may be, it is frequently the only one in the entire audience section. And as for coverage of contentious issues and investigative reporting, where in Dade do you see those but in your friendly neighborhood Planet?
One small tangent: Alpo is used to people calling The Planet a “site” but she hates it when they call it a Facebook page. The Planet is in fact associated with a FB page of the same name, on which Alpo posts links to new stories. But click the link on the FB page and you go to The Planet’s website. There clicking “Home” will take you to the front page of The Planet, where you will find a list of current stories as well as featured oldies and where you can read the obits and peruse a calendar of upcoming local events. It. Is. A. Newspaper!
Yes, The Dade Planet has all the things that a local print newspaper would have, only delivered more quickly and spelled better, plus a lot of cool stuff the other local rags can only dream of because they don’t have me, Socrates, Hitler, Ann the Master Gardener and Cheryl the Goddess of Love chipping in. So if Alpo
were here I’m sure she would contend that not only is The Planet a newspaper, it is the best damn newspaper in the Rising Fawn Metro Area!
But Alpo can’t say it, she’s shy and modest and for that matter curled up fetally beneath the I-59 underpass—and anyway, why keep a dog if you’ve got to bark yourself?
So, ahem, let's cut to the chase. The one thing the other rags do better than The Planet is sell ads. Oh, Alpo tries! She tries! She recently found herself eating a dog biscuit in the vain attempt to suck up to a pet grooming business. (She tells that story as proof she makes an effort but it only makes me mad. She might have saved me half!)
The Planet is a free and supremely accessible source of valuable and entertaining local information, published by a management with a cynical contempt for the money system, a solid determination to believe that disposable income is for losers, and a proven talent for sleeping under interstate bridges. But gas, hosting fees and dog food all cost money, so if you enjoy reading this newspaper, and can afford to do so, why not help keep The Planet in orbit with your kind donation of any amount?
Checks may be sent to The Dade Planet, P.O. Box 173, Trenton, Ga., 30752, or use a debit or credit card to contribute by pressing the PayPal button in the ad below. And remember, your donation to The Planet is not tax deductible. The Planet is not a nonprofit, it just sucks at making money.
So my message to you--and I'm sure Alpo would say the same, only adding a Gentle Reader here or a quote from Hamlet there--Merry Christmas, everybody, and SAVE THE NEWSPAPER, SEND MONEY!