Friday, March 6, 2009

The Paper Chase

It’s getting harder and harder to justify subscribing to the newspaper any more. It pains me to say that because I’ve been a newspaper guy since I was a kid.

My mom and dad always had a paper delivered, sometimes two, so I was probably in grade school when I picked up the habit. I always made it a point of reading (or at least thumbing through) each section, because Dad always accused me of just reading the comics.

When we lived in Northwest Ohio, it was an evening paper that was delivered to the box out by the road. I can remember sitting on the porch waiting for it to come. I’d bring it back and just be settling into the day’s news when Dad would come home from work.

Dad: Ok, let’s have the paper.

Me: But I went and got it and I just started reading it…

Dad: How many bills have you paid for the paper?

Me: None, but…

Dad: Let’s have that paper…


Anyway, as soon as I went out on my own, no matter how shitty my job was, I always got the local paper. It was a different time… There was no Internet or much in the way of cable news. (Other than a fledgling CNN.) If I wanted to know what was going on in local or national politics, or sports beyond the city limits, the newspaper was it.

And of course there were comics like Doonesbury, Bloom County, Calvin & Hobbs… classics all.

Today, newspapers are practically obsolete. I still get the Baltimore Sun but it’s quickly becoming The Incredible Shrinking Paper. They just cut the size back again… any smaller and they can just mail it out as a pamphlet. Whenever you hold it up to read, the pages curl. They’ve gutted their staff… well, their writing staff. There seems to be no shortage of ads so the salesmen must be OK. But a number of columnists I used to enjoy reading have moved on or bought out.

The sports section is atrocious. I think the theory is, “if it happens outside the beltway, it isn’t newsworthy.” Unfortunately I think this is the one instance of the paper correctly reflecting the view of Baltimore people. But the newspaper is supposed to support the greater good. There IS a world out there and not everyone living here is FROM here. What passes for hockey coverage is… well... there IS no hockey coverage. They have maybe a two-sentence paragraph if the Washington Capitals played. There’s about a square inch where they run the line scores (provided the games are Eastern Time Zone). Every couple of days, they show the standings. There are a couple of pages for lacrosse and high school sports though, which no one cares about unless they have a kid playing. So can you take a couple square inches away from the titty-bar ads and run the standings please?

I enjoy my newspaper routine. I read the front and metro sections each morning with my Diet Coke… oop, wait… they combined those two sections into one. For some reason, they have the “World News” in a different font. That’s what passes for “exotic” in Baltimore. On my subway ride into work, I read the Sports and Entertainment sections. At lunch I do the crossword and sudoku puzzles, and time permitting, the Jumble. If I can see them, that is. The size of the puzzles has shrunk along with the paper. Makes me keep my pencils sharp, I tell ya…

They’ve totally killed the comic section. It used to span two full pages. But through cost cutting and attrition, about a third of them are gone and the rest have been crammed into one page. Even the Sunday comics have been stuck inside the TV Guide section. The panels seem even smaller than in the daily comics. Opus made it out just in time.

The Sun used to have great regular columns on Consumer Protections, Computer Issues, Commuting, Home Life, and a great editorial cartoonist… all gone. All we hear is that no one is getting the paper, so they have to reduce staff and materials to cut costs. Which causes more people like me to stop getting the paper. Which causes more cutbacks… and on we go, down this spiral of self-fulfilling prophesy, until the paper folds.

Right now, I get the meat of my information from news sites on the Internet. There’s really nothing that the newspaper provides me that I can’t get elsewhere for free.* It’s just a matter of time before I “pull the string”, (or is that “cut the cord?”) and give up my paper. I suppose I could find something else to read in the morning (and maybe get to work on time more often). I could get a crossword book for lunch.

I guess I’d just miss the routine. Getting the paper has always seemed like The Adult Thing To Do. Serious people read the paper. Intelligent, inquisitive, involved people read the paper. **

Sigh. They used to, anyway.

* ”Free,” as in “with an internet account.”
** Plus the morons who write in to the editor. (Obviously I call them “morons” because they haven’t run any of my letters yet.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Opus AND Molly Ivins made it out just in time. We're now getting the Sunday NYT delivered for early morning reading in bed with coffee. What a treat. I usually spend several days reading each section, still on last week's BOOK REVIEW. No comics though except Newt Gingrich's picture on last Sunday's MAGAZINE.
And you can't line the canary cage with a computer. Alas.
lil Mom