Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Newspaper Nostalgia

I love coming of age in the 21st century. After all, in what other era could someone young and unpublished so easily reach an audience for her writing? I understand that these years, like any, have their share of problems, and I'm happy to live at a time in which others have paved the way for my generation to take action in response to society's remaining injustices. And I'm beyond thrilled that we've managed to elect an African American president, even many months after the historic election.

But we are undeniably being utterly robbed of one aspect of life by the mere passing of time.

For as long as I can remember, the kitchen counter of the house I grew up in has been host to a pile of freshly printed newspapers. Sometimes the papers were creased in multiple places from being unfolded and refolded again, and usually stacked messily. But they always belonged to the present all the same. We got the Baltimore Sun every day, and the New York Times only on Sundays. And each morning over cereal and coffee, my parents would each read the news.

When I was very young, my parents' obsession with the news mystified me. Somehow adults always wanted to sit in the kitchen, the living room, or their beds, reading monotonous, black and white paragraphs about other adults . . . and then they would talk about what they read with each other, in big words that usually meant the same thing as shorter, prettier words anyway.
But all the same, I always thought that I would end up reading the news every day eventually: after all, I came from a long tradition of news readers.

Gradually, as I grew and became more knowledgeable and interested in world events, I began to read the front page of the Baltimore Sun between soccer practice and starting my homework. The paper was always in the kitchen waiting for me. And knowing that I could gain access to important events across the world just by skimming that front page made me feel grown up and smart.

I made the New York Times my home page on my laptop computer, and that has served me well in college, where no printed newspaper waits for me to wake up. And online news does have its perks. After all, when the internet is your primary source of news, you don't have to wait until tomorrow morning to read about what happened today, and you don't end up with a whole lot of paper cluttering up your living space.

But all the same, when I arrived home for spring break this year, I was shocked to discover that there was no newspaper in the kitchen, or anywhere else in the house for that matter. Not even one. I remember asking my mom casually where the newspaper was, and barely trusting my ears when she told me that we just don't subscribe to the Baltimore Sun anymore.


That was the only way to go, she explained, since the Baltimore Sun had cut out so much content, and fired so much staff, that it was no longer worth reading. It was a parody of what the Sun used to be, an embarrassment.

My reality was altered that day, if only slightly. And the worst part was knowing that I didn't understand why I cared so much.

I learned, after a bit of research, that the Baltimore Sun was not the only newspaper to be forced to downsize. Newspaper subscriptions across the country are declining rapidly. And it's not just because of the current economy: that only helps to speed up the process. Because the internet seems to serve every purpose that newspapers previously held as their own, newspapers are becoming something passe, like having milk delivered to houses in glass bottles every morning with the cream on top.

Somehow, it isn't the worries about what will happen to my online New York times, or what will happen to news reporting and analysis in every form that bothers me most. It's that idea that I will never be an adult who reads the newspaper over breakfast in the morning, or over with a cup of tea in the evening. Neither will anyone else in my generation. At least, not in the same way.

It's not ending quite so quickly. After all, New York Times still comes every Sunday, at least for now. And the world news is much better in it anyway. There is still something startlingly satisfying about reading news stories that can sit tangibly in my hands. The concept that learning about the rest of the world outside of a class doesn't necessarily mean staring at a bright screen with minimal head movement until my eyes go numb. And there's something about seeing a set of words printed on touchable paper, that tells us that they were really written like nothing else can.

And anyway, if coffee spills on a newspaper, one day's news gets ruined, not an entire impossibly expensive piece of electronics.

It's often said that it becomes easier to see the value in something when it's going away. So for now, if only for a short time, I will proudly call myself a person who reads the newspaper.


Thanks everyone for all the great feedback! Please keep it up, and have a happy 4th of July!


  1. Yet another post of yours that I have a good bit to say about! Just like your Baltimore Sun experience, I've had the same thing happen with my local paper, the Altoona Mirror. Although the Mirror has never been very good (they typically have editorials by Bill O'Reilly in them, and definitely only show one side of an issue), for many years I habitually read it while eating breakfast. In fact, my parents once forbid me from reading the paper during breakfast because it kept me from starting school (one of the perks of hokmeschooling haha). However, last year the Mirror reached an all-time low. It just plain stunk. My parents stopped getting it when I left for Dickinson, and now they get it from some friends after they're done with it. I haven't suffered much withdrawal from it though, since I've become accustomed to checking a variety of online sources, and reading the NY Times at school. :)

    Speaking of that, I'm planning on getting a semester's worth of the NY Times once I get back on campus. $33 for a paper every weekday. We can share them if we each pay half. :)

  2. Backpacking the blogosphere today. Looking for new blogs.

    I agree with your thoughts about the newspaper. Even the smell of a newspaper can't rivel to new age gadgets.

  3. I have to agree with this. I know it's silly but I will go out of my way to purchase a book at Barnes and Nobles that I could have read for free on the internet. I guess you just can't curl up with a laptop, or hold it over your head when your arms start to cramp from reading so long. Not to mention it's better on your eyes long term. Good Blog.