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The newspaper is dead, long live the newspaper.

By the time you read this, whatever product Apple will announce on 27 January will have been shown and, maybe, a step will have been taken to the rebirth of newspapers. As someone who fetishises physical objects, the notion of books and magazines in the future being entirely digital depresses me.There is, however, no way around it. All things that can be digital will be. With regard to print, it has already begun as newspapers around the world are shutting down or becoming web-based. I don't read a lot of newspapers anymore, aside from the Financial Times which I get free at work. I avoid the free ones like one would avoid the guilt-inducing stares of homeless people. But when we lived in Sweden and I was about seven, my father used to subscribe to Dagens Nyheter (Daily News), which was this beautiful broadsheet that has now been reduced to a tabloid-sized collection of haikus from AP and Reuters. The format, unwieldy as it was had its magic, it felt like it was bustling with information, like it was going to seep out of the paper and onto your ink-stained hands and into you. This was a time where I read everything: I would be reading a children's book at the breakfast table and my father, insisting then as he does now on the family to eat together at all meals possible, would take the book from me, then take the comic I would have hidden under my bum, then in the end have to remove the Corn Flakes box, because I had to read something, I just had to. And this paper, once my father was finished with it around noon (he'd start reading after breakfast, but quickly set aside the Arts & Culture section which I would have ample time to read until he finished with the other parts) would be devoured by me, every last bit of it, spreading it over the living room floor, resting my head in my hands as I lay horizontal in front of the television. A big part of growing up seemed, to me, to include having a giant newspaper filled with all the wonders of the world. Iraq in general and Kurdistan in particular probably have more newspapers now than Sweden. It is a print culture, one with more newspapers being printed than there are readers. And while the western newspapers crumbled for lack of revenue, Kurdish papers are both cheaper and less dependent on massive profits. However, the issue of content is one that plagues us too: without sufficient journalistic integrity, few newspapers have responsible editors and fact checkers at their disposal and without the necessary budget to do so, few papers can afford any substantial investigative journalism. This paper, of course, is an interesting hybrid. Very early on, SOMA had a website with its articles online as well as full pdf versions of the newspaper itself. I don't know whether you are reading this online or if you're holding the paper version. Hopefully there are enough people who do both for both print and online media to thrive. Of course, the situation in the United States and in Western Europe is quite different: technology and the inability of the Old World (mainly content providers) to change with the times have rendered the newspaper an endangered species. I mean, sure, I could pay hefty sums for a neutered Times or Independent, but it feels empty. The big mistake all the newspapers made when confronted with the internet and free papers was to make them cheaper and more like the websites and Metro rather than realize what they had that the free press didn't have. McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, quite possibly the best literary magazine there is, made their current issue in the form of a Sunday broadsheet newspaper, as an example of what a newspaper in the post-internet age could be. It's massive and beautiful and weighs more than an elephant in lead boots who has really let himself go over the holidays. The format works wonders: so far, I've already been sold on a bottle of Absinthe that is reproduced in beautiful color in one of the ads. When was the last time an internet ad did anything of the kind? I have learnt so much just by reading the first part, from all corners of the world - Iran, Congo, Yellow Dwarf stars, the American Justice system... it just gave me that childhood impression again, that the world is so incredibly vast. Compare that to the sensationalist crime stories and celebrity topics that are copied and pasted across all of today's papers. The success of Twitter is indicative of our time, when we just don't have the attention span to focus on any one thing for more than a few seconds. If it's not a soundbite, it won't go in. To wit: while reading the paper, I had to stop to write this column. And while writing this column I have checked my Facebook four times, sent a link to my cousin, read two jokes that a friend sent by e-mail and checked that there was nothing new on my RSS feeds. In such a mindfield, how can we expect to grasp things, fully? I know that McSweeney's is a one-off paper. I know that not everyone has Dave Eggers' clout to get George Saunders, William T Vollman, Miranda July, Michael Chabon, Stephen King and Jonah Lehrer (not to mention countless others who are not fiction-writers and so are completely unknown to me), to write for what must have been much less than their usual fees. But still. They managed to make a glorious newspaper for $5, and that means something. That means it's possible. And that gives me hope.

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Publication:Soma Digest (Suleimanieh, Iraq)
Date:Apr 12, 2010
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