By Paul Gillin | July 18, 2012 - 4:52 pm - Posted in BusinessModel, Future of Journalism, Newspapers

 

Editor & Publisher caught up with humorist Dave Barry to talk about receiving the 2013 Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Barry is funny as always in the Q&A, but he also provides some plain-talk insight on the troubles that afflict the industry that made him a star. We thought they were worth sharing.

 So what role did newspapers play in the decline of humor columns? 
Newspapers have had a consistent problem over the past 30 to 40 years that whenever they are offered two options, they always pick the one that is more boring and less desirable to readers.

Personally, I attribute the modern failure of newspapers to English majors. We let our business be run by English majors, but since the model was a foolproof way of making money and the only place for Sears to buy and print a full-page ad, they could do whatever they wanted. This created the notion that whatever they were doing had huge market demand, and when the Internet came along, we found out that wasn’t necessarily the case.

With the decline of print, do you think there are opportunities for aspiring humor writers out there to get a break like you did? 

I was lucky. When I started writing in the mid-1970s, newspapers were really flush. Baby boomers were subscribing in huge numbers, and they were my audience. I did meet with some resistance, because my columns were different and weird. I violated a lot of newspaper tenets. I lied a lot in my columns; I was willing to be completely absurd and didn’t worry that the end of my column didn’t have anything to do with the beginning.

My columns were different enough that readers felt they could relate to them with their own lives, and they liked them for that. Plus, back then newspapers could take a chance on someone like me. They were more fearless back in those days. The idea of someone canceling their subscription was kind of a joke. Now they’re terrified of doing anything that might offend readers and fall outside their marketing plan.

It doesn’t really matter, because I don’t know of any young, funny person who wants to get into the newspaper business anyway.

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