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Cory Silverberg

How Sex Could Save Newspapers

By October 19, 2009

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There's been so much hand wringing about the future of newspapers and most of it does little more than repeat an ominous warning of the end of days that will come about when newspapers cease to be the thing they are now. So I was pleasantly surprised to hear a question asked this weekend on On the Media which I don't hear nearly enough. The question they raised was not whether or not newspapers will survive, but if they should?

Unsurprisingly, sex didn't come up in this particular segment, but it could have. In at least two ways, sex offers a lesson in the trouble newspapers and network television find themselves in, and a clue as to how they might turn their fortunes around.

Nowhere is the disconnect between mainstream news production and the lives and experiences of those of us who consume it more apparent than in content about sexuality. New outlets love an excuse to run sexual content because they know it attracts readers. But they have to keep it superficial and ultimately judgmental because they live in fear of complaining advertisers. The result is content that reflects back a stereotype and fails to connect with anyone's lived experience.

I've complained about this before, but it was brought home to me again after giving up 15 minutes of my life I'll never get back on a barely readable article from Time Magazine about the greening of sex. Wanna guess the headline? It was Sex and the Eco-City. Aren't there rules that a title of an article at least has to make sense? Although once you read the article you realize the title fits, since the piece is a bizarre collection of disconnected points and surfaces barely scratched. It's a keen idea, too bad the picture of sexuality it offers is hot off the press releases real people's experience of sex is nowhere to be seen.

Sex is important to people. Very important. If and when media outlets start treating the topic, and us, as one worthy of their, at times, considerable intelligence and formidable journalistic and analytic skills, they may find an energized and loyal audience is just waiting for them.

Of course the title of this blog post is a bit tongue in cheek. I don't think sex can save newspapers. But I do think that if the print media was able to make the kinds of changes needed to deal with sexuality in a way that would make sense to their readers, they'd be making the kinds of changes they need to survive.

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