The Paper Chase
No news isn't good news
It’s been a year since I opted not to renew the paper. Being in the journalism business, the thought of canceling it outright had smacked of treason, having cut my teeth at The Daily Cardinal, The Janesville Gazette and Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. So I rationalized it like this: passively allowing my subscription to lapse would feel slightly less Benedict Arnold-like.
Only it hasn’t been as easy or as great as I’d hoped. Thanks to my English-major mom and career-counselor pop, I am a generally well-informed inhabitant of the planet and a lover of lifelong learning. In my family, shuffling outside each morning in search of the rubber-banded news-and-information pouch was a joyous act of citizenship. But I grew up in Virginia, where Halloween costumes weren’t lined with fleece.
About a year ago, as the Wisconsin cold began its slow, sharp nip at my ankles, and with the delivery person clearly suffering from repetitive stress syndrome, barely clearing the six-inch curb, I felt the time had come. I’d been thinking about foregoing the print version for a few months before finally mustering up enough courage. And then one day, just like that, I ripped up the renewal envelope and tossed it in the recycling. And hopped on Craigslist to post an ad—for free—for our old kitchen table.
For a while, life without the paper was fine. Save for the occasional, self-indulgent Sunday, the a.m. routine of a wife, mother, pet owner and auto commuter hadn’t included a paper for quite some time. Most days, by the time I get home from work, I’ve already digested the day’s events via radio, or consumed them online. It’s a waste of paper, and to be perfectly and brutally honest, there isn’t all that much to read in it anymore.
For the great many of us—at least for now—who grew up on newsprint as the primary lifeline to our local and global communities, what an unnerving experience to see it begin to vanish before our very own eyes.
Of course it didn’t happen overnight.
First, it was the reduction in size. Remember when it was as tall as it was wide? If you held it in your hands for too long, gravity would set in, causing the corners to flop over your knuckles until you flicked them back into vertical submission. If you held it outstretched for too long, your arms ached.
Next came the advertising diaspora and the subsequent reduction in pages (not to mention the people whose job it was to fill them). Forget about packing up your glassware for the big move with a mile-high stack of newspapers. A week’s worth of the daily grind would hardly pad a cardboard box.
And then came the final blow. The media tank as we knew it had run out of oxygen, as the news of the day was replaced by the deals of the day. That delicate and democratic balance of editorial and advertising space that exposed corrupt politicians in one column and sold us used minivans in the next was gone. Vaporized. Crushed like a black-and-white bug.
Recently I read—online—at Yahoo! News that USA Today, the second-largest paper in the country, “is making the most dramatic overhaul of its staff in its 28-year history as it de-emphasizes its print edition and ramps up its efforts to reach more readers and advertisers on mobile devices.”
I’m a fan of new media; it’s an exciting partner in the future of journalism. But with fewer humans to power that future—130 layoffs this fall at USA Today, for example—who’s going to help me find the most accurate news and information—now called “content”—spewing out of my laptop?
That article made me realize how much I miss my newspaper. So I logged on to madison.com and did a quick search, then grabbed my debit card and let my fingers do the typing. Sixty-five bucks for a twenty-six-week subscription to the State Journal daily and The Cap Times once a week, you say? I just clicked the “Submit Order” button. Until I get my hands on the iPad, and my local newspaper sells me an app, I’m buying the damn paper.
Brennan Nardi is editor of Madison Magazine. Comments and letters can be sent to 7025 Raymond Rd., Madison, WI 53719, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters we publish may be edited for space and clarity.