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 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