Tuesday, March 24, 2009

For the Love of Newsprint

I have, until now, observed the demise of America's local newspapers from a distance. Then came yesterday's announcement of the closure of the Ann Arbor News.

My heart filled with a sense of loss and disbelief -- like I had just lost a friend. I thought, they're moving to an online version of the News? What?!?

The Ann Arbor News was the newspaper of my young, independent womanhood.

I and my twenty-something friends hailed the paper's wisdom when we found in its pages a kernel of truth. We joyfully derided it as a rag when we disagreed, too. We read its pages in State Street coffee shops and Main Street bars. We discussed it as we waited for gourmet soup at LeDog on our lunchbreak. We were thankful someone had left a copy in the doctor's waiting room or outside the office of that Professor everyone knows is perpetually-late.

I spied its headlines through the glass of an Ann Arbor News paper box as I waited for the bus, always marveling at the fact that a few jingling quarters could purchase access to an entire armload of papers, and yet people took only one.

The honor system. Another creature nearing extinction.

And now I sit at my breakfast table with my grapefruit and coffee, the thirty-something edition of me digesting the news from the Champaign-Urbana paper, The News-Gazette. Yet, I'm thinking about my old home, my old friends, my old newspaper, and I'm missing them.

The feeling feels vaguely familiar.

I recall the demise of The Washington Star when I was a girl. It was a good paper that couldn't survive a crowded marketplace. The Post had risen to pre-eminence after the Watergate scandal, and the Star just couldn't keep its doors open. At least, that's how I remember it. I was ten.

My Dad still has his delivery box from the Star; he loved that paper. Even a year afterward, as he read his Washington Post, he would mutter about cheap paper and bad ink -- it gets all over your hands, he would complain. Then he would stand at the kitchen sink to wash them before heading to work in his tie and starched shirt, still muttering. I would gleefully gulp down the last sugary remnants of the cold coffee he had generously poured into my empty juice glass, watching him but never fully understanding the depth of his resentment at the sham replacement of his beloved Star, this upstart, this Post.

Now I get it. Online Version My Eye.

My children have said to me, once I'm big I'll read the paper, too, just like you and Dad. They've already started just like I did -- reading the comics and working the word-find. I imagine the boys will move to the sports page next, reading eagerly about local teams, feeling the paper between their fingers, the delicacy of it, marveling at the full color photos.

(Although I must admit, I felt like USAToday, the first paper I ever saw with color-coded sections and photos, had to be overcompensating for poor writing -- I mean, how could a paper presume to cover the whole country at once? And color? Lordy. Color back then was for women's magazines, not for the news.)

Goodness, I sound like a dinosaur, don't I?

Maybe so.

Maybe it pains me to see that the classic first job of generations of American boys -- delivering the news -- is disappearing. The paper in my town, the Danville Commercial-News, went from three sections to two not long ago. But it was their decision to start delivering the paper through the US Postal Service that burnt my bacon. They cut out the lovely family that delivered our paper -- one kid running down each side of the street while Mom slowly drove a Suburban filled with newspapers -- like they were nothing.

They were human beings delivering our paper with a smile. I loved that connection.

My husband's father's first job was to deliver the paper in the neighborhoods off Logan Street. He rode his bike to deliver the paper, every day, rain or shine.

My dad broke his pinky finger delivering papers. He hit it on his red flyer wagon, filled with newspapers he was delivering in Pittsburgh, PA. His friend's mom iced it for him, and he finished his route. He is still freakishly double-jointed in his pinky from that day.

How many other Americans have similar stories, similar memories?

What will replace the aesthetic of the American local newspaper? A few keystrokes? And how will our understanding of our cities and towns, state and federal government, business, education diminish because there are no longer reporters spending their days tracking down the story, doing the research, writing the copy to bring us the information we need?

What about the people who don't have a computer?

Are the poor or the elderly less entitled to know The News?

Perhaps the same thing will happen now that happened when The Washington Star closed up shop -- other newspapers could step in to fill the void. Let's hope so.

If not, America's breakfast tables and coffee shops just won't be the same. There will be no rustle, no folding and re-folding, no losing yourself in a story until you realize the time. And there will be no learning something unexpectedly vital that a local reporter took the time and care to teach you.

What a loss that would be.

- Midwest Mom


  1. M threw a paper route as a jr. high-high schooler and then threw one again in the depths of trying to get our business off the ground. That extra income was much needed! It's hard to imagine that the morning paper as a cultural phenom may have run its course!


  2. I hope it hasn't run its course.

    I'm not ready for the glow of laptop screens to replace the gentle rustling of someone paging through to find that incisive article to pass across the table to their spouse, with a victorious flick, There! Now what do you say about THAT!

    The aesthetic of newspapers should never go away, just like real books shouldn't be replaced by kindle... At least not in my lifetime.

    For me, that would be too great a loss.

    Thanks for coming by and for your comment, Octamom.

    - Julia

  3. I think in a weird way there is huge promise for VERY small, local papers. Our community has one that is every other week and it has steadily grown since it started 7 years ago. It's certainly an industry in flux.

  4. This makes me sad. My older brother and I shared a paper route as kids. We split the rolling, walking, and money in half. We probably should have given Mom a cut since she drove us around on rainy days and usually did most of the rolling.

    One memory you left out: cutting my current events story out to take in and share with my fellow 4th and 5th graders.

    Also, what will frugal minded people like myself use to wrap breakables before shipping or to wrap birthday packages at the last minute?

    Newspapers are so much more than just reading material. How will life be different if newspapers are no longer?


  5. More and more people go and read everything on the net, but I like every once in a while to pick up the actual print!
    I feel like you what about elderly people who don't have or know computers.

  6. I'm not read to say byebye to newspapers either. I wrote for one for decades never imagining life without papers, even though I saw the struggles. I'm reading What Would Google Do and Jarvis (author) says there will be no newspapers SOON. Environmentally the 450 million trees a year that could be saved I suppose is worth our giving them up - its just sad.

  7. I think newspapers will be compromised with less publications but not to the point that they will cease to exist.

    I think the big issue it that it is easier to sell advertising space on the web than in print nowadays.

    Ugh Kindle.. like we need another electronic device to lug around..

  8. We live in Canada, so many of the papers have just online versions now... I think in part because parents don't want their kids out at five a.m. delivering them in the dark when it is forty below.

    I suppose it is also better for trees. But I do love a nice inky set of fingers on Saturday morning especially.

  9. I learned how to write in cursive on the edges of my grandpa's newspapers.
    I truly is sad that we may be moving away from printed papers.


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