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While print newspapers may not still have the effect that they once did in our society, their online counterparts continue to alter the way people perceive certain social customs and mores. For instance, if a newspaper article or picture holds up a certain fashion as popular, people are more likely to "buy into" that fashion or look.
Like other media including television, radio, and internet, newspapers help contribute to the public conscience. Think back to 9/11/01 and how the media at large covered the terrorist attacks on our country -- the attacks were reported and perceived as horrid, unjustifiable, and as a justification for all-out war. As time elapsed, however, the media (including newspapers) shaped people's opinions by reporting a lack of success in the Middle East, and the public mind began formulating a need to withdraw our troops. These examples are only two illustrations of how newspapers and media shape public opinion.
I do think newspapers can influence social life, and influence what we think about certain organizations, our government, and people. The media has a way with spinning the facts and creating drama so that they can run their business successfully, so its up to the individual to decipher the drama from the facts, and really interpret the news themselves.
I don't know anymore honestly. So many people don't get a paper delivered to their houses - myself included (although I do read the one that I get for my classroom now and again). People are more-so getting their information from on-line and televised news because it is convenient and much more quick. Papers are good for local want-ads and classifieds, and real local news, but even local papers have on-line versions.
I do think that newspapers change social life, but I don't see that physical, paper newspapers are necessarily becoming obsolete and that on-line, electronic sources are taking over. I think that the two together continue to change our society. Newspapers still have their uses today and continue to be important ways to notify the public about events in the community. Many of us really enjoy having coffee over the paper in the morning, and the experience of flipping through the paper and skimming over the news is an important one.
On-line news is often limited to headlines or "popular" stories which have a great curiosity factor, but often are irrelevant to our daily lives. One way that on-line versions of papers are changing how we interact is by utilizing blogs. All of a sudden, readers can weigh in on the issues reported in the paper. The ability to respond in real time, to dialogue with other community members, and often to do something concrete about the problems in a community are invaluable. I don't think "real" papers should ever become obsolete, but the interactive advantages of on-line papers are something on which all communities should capitalize.
If we think of social life only as part of life involving physical interaction between people then newspaper has a very limited role to perform. That is the role of source of information as raw material for discussion with others. However, if we think of social life embracing all our links with others, the newspapers play a very important role in it.
Take the example of recent Presidential elections in USA. Typically a common man in India is not much bothered, or even aware, about the presidential elections. But this time, people in India were actually emotionally involved because of participation of Obama. Now they are also feel good or bad about what happens to Obama's family and even his pet dog. This emotional link has been possible only due to newspapers and other forms of news services.
I am not sure newspapers have as much impact today as they used to, but in their heyday they most definitely affected social life. Wedding and funeral announcements, gossip, political and sports news, and local news were closely watched. Now we have a variety of media that fill those different needs, most of them online. Many people get most or all of their news online, through Twitter and Facebook and blogs.
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