Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Industry-saving idea: edible newspapers!

I’ve tried in vain for the past two years to singlehandedly save an industry I love. But the newspaper industry, that unforgiving and often cruel mistress, continues to turn its back on me more times than did all the high school cheerleaders when prom time rolled around.

It ridicules me. Calls me stupid. It pretends it didn’t get my phone calls. For all I know, it’s running around with a guy from the football team who drives his own car.

See, the solution to an industry plagued with job losses, vanishing readers and generations who don’t even know it exists is a simple meat ‘n’ potatoes issue.

Newspapers need to become edible.

I have seen the future and it is covered in ketchup.

Many of our most urgent problems could be solved if more everyday manufactured items could be consumed after they’ve been used instead of being trucked to a landfill.

Think how much waste would be eliminated if, say, after you’ve eaten a bag of potato chips you could chew up the bag and digest it. Make it mint flavored and heart-healthy and the busy bodies at the American Medical Association would probably recommend it for kids.

Same with those ubiquitous plastic bottles. Why can’t they make those out of some pretzel-like substance that would be safe to consume without spilling as the liquid got lower?

And, sure, go ahead and make the vending machines out of jerky that’ll only become edible after it’s deemed obsolete.

But let’s start with newspapers. While vending machines constructed from jerky may take some time, we could start printing edible newspapers with the very next editions. That technology’s been available since November 3, 2003, when a baked goods savant named Douglas Stewart was issued U.S. patent #6,652,897.

The patent, with the full backing of the U.S. government -- and that means W.! -- said it was safe to consume certain papers and colored inks.

Hogwash, you say? Well, you’ve probably already eaten your share of ink and paper and it may have had your Aunt Minnie’s picture on it.

Yes, Stewart’s the genius who devised a way to print pictures and lacquer them atop birthday cakes. Stewart’s inspiration was that the paper he made was firm enough to be printed on in a standard printer, yet dissolves quickly when brought in contact with moist frosting. It’s perfectly safe. And on a cake, just plain cool.

There’s no better or more practical application than having the same technology devoted to newspapers, a dirty, tree-devouring business if there ever was one.

Think of the mountains of waste that would be eliminated. Think how it would help busy executives if the could read a page of the Wall Street Journal and gobble it down like a fresh salad.

Newspaper consumers would become consumers of newspapers.

With edible newspapers, the food editor would enjoy a much more elevated position in the newsroom. Instead of being the butt of jokes from hard news guys, the food editor would be the one who’d daily decide what it meant for a family newspaper to be truly tasteful.

“All right, there’s a big doubleheader at the ballpark today so flavor the sports pages with hot dogs and mustard. The front page story about salmonella should taste like salsa because readers aren’t going to be getting any of that for a while. And we’re running a blowhard opinion piece from Stan, the business editor, about how he correctly predicted the current troubles when everyone said he was nuts. Have that taste like crow.”

It’s as simple as that.

The newspaper industry, mired in the deepest slump since Guttenberg invented the printing press, can take it or leave it.

They can call me a kook. I don’t mind. I’ve offered a perfectly sensible solution to save their jobs. If they choose to ignore it, well, let them eat cake.

If I'm wrong, I'll eat my words. And if I'm right, everyone else will.

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