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Extry, Extry!


NOT LONG ago I read that the San Jose Mercury News had published its first electronic edition of the paper on a computer.

It is predicted by some that the computer will eventually replace newsprint as the bearer of bad news.

As someone who has been working with news on paper for decades, I can only say: "Fie on computers and their information highways. The newspaper as we know it will never die."

Let me make my case. Not a day goes by without us reading bad news. The only thing that keeps us from panicking is that we can hold on to the pages with both hands while we scan the grim headlines.

There is no way you can get the same grip on your nerves by clinging to the sides of a computer.

The electronic newspaper is cold when it appears on the screen, while a newspaper is hot, particularly when you start a fire with it.

The advantage of a newspaper is that you don't have to sit down in a particular place and stare at a screen to find out what's happening in the world. Some people read it in bed, others at the breakfast table and still others on the train. It is lightweight and portable and designed to be reader-friendly.

Needless to say a computer is useless for lining a garbage pail or for the bottom of a bird cage.

There isn't a machine on the market that you can safely take a swipe at the dog with when he does something bad.

The promoters of electronic news are trying to sell us on the convenience of clicking a key instead of browsing through the pages by hand.

That shows how dumb they really are. The joy of a paper comes from being surprised. Your eye scans the page and suddenly you discover that Sen. Packwood won't release his diaries. Bingo! On Page 6 is an item you never dreamed of -- Safeway is having a sale on asparagus. You can't enjoy these kind of discoveries electronically.

One of the arguments for computer news is that the reader can talk back to the screen and vent his anger immediately at the editors.

This is a joke. I don't know one editor who pays attention to reader mail, and he sure as heck isn't going to do it reading some guy's electronic bulletin board.

Now here is the other downer when it comes to computers. To read the news on your screen, you will need to be connected to the telephone company by modem, and it is going to charge you an arm and a leg to tell you what Michael Jackson is up to that day. You'll be tied up on the line for hours until you finish the comic strips. This means that you will feel financially pressured to read the publication as fast as possible so that it won't cost you a bundle.

A newspaper charges one price and you get to read everything at your own pace. You can put it down, drive the kids to a soccer game and come back and pick up right where you left off without paying a dime to the phone company.

To sum up, there is no advantage to having a computer replace a printed newspaper. Let the computers do your subscription billing, but leave the delivery of the news to something you can wrap fish in.

Art Buchwald is a syndicated columnist.

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