Friday, April 24, 2009

Newspaper Nostalgia

I can’t start my day without a newspaper to scan at the breakfast table. I’ve been this way forever. As a child, I read the St. Louis Post Dispatch every day. The high point of my newspaper-reading life was 1983 to 1990, when I got the Washington Post delivered to my door every morning, and every Sunday we got Book World. When I moved to the back of nowhere, our friends here joined in with us to buy a subscription to the Washington Post, but after a few months of reading it two days late, we gave it up. Since then, I’ve been subsisting on a daily diet of The Columbus Dispatch.

Lately, though, the newspaper is often delivered after we’ve gotten up from the breakfast table. And it keeps getting slimmer. The sections I look for each day have been shrunk down and incorporated into other sections, and the front page includes more sports and metro news, and less national and world news. It’s gotten to where I get more of my news from my 20-second glance at the google news headlines and reading articles from The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune when friends send links.

Just recently, I clicked on a link over at a book blog I like to read, Sophisticated Dorkiness, and read this article from the NY Times, about xkcd comics coming out in book form soon. I like what the article says about the collection being an artifact. Newspapers are no longer so immediate as they once were, and they’re not pleasant artifacts, either, after a few days. I have links on my sidebar now to some of the things I like to read that I first discovered in newspapers, like The Borowitz Report--and I don't have to dispose of anything after I've read it. And, of course, newspaper book review sections are being eliminated (Book World) or they've gotten so watered down as to be unpalatable (The Columbus Dispatch now uses the NYTimes bestseller list to list new books on Sundays).

So this year when my kid had a magazine sale for his school, I bought a subscription to the London Review of Books. It’s occasionally interesting; I’ve enjoyed some of the poems there, although the last time I sat down to read any of them was in March, when I discovered David Harsent’s Four Poems. My favorite of the four related poems is this one:

The Garden in Sunlight

Go by white poppies, white tulips, white flags, go by
the white willow arch, go by the apple tree, its full white crop,

go by the pond where white-eyed fish
slide by deeper each day, then out to the lawn, its trackless white

a mirror image of the trackless sky;
but think now: after you’ve set foot you’re on a wish

and a promise, adrift in white’s slow creep
away and over the edge, though something takes you straight

to those little spoil heaps: bone that breaks to ash
under your hand…and you backtrack, hoping for sight

of the house, perhaps, or the garden gate, or the street,
but it’s white-on-white however hard you try,

and a hum in the air, white noise, which could be some rash
report of you: figment, divertimento, little white lie.

Much as I like that one in particular, though, I have the sense that I could have lived without discovering it in the March issue, and that when the issue begins to yellow and curl at the edges, I’ll put it in the recycling basket without a backward look. I used to cut out poems I liked and keep them in various places; sometimes I still find one fluttering out of a volume of poetry when I open it again.

But it’s the volume I go back to. Sometimes I throw away my own inserts, because like the ads that flutter down when I open a magazine, they’re not bound. I’m not bound to them in the same way.

Are you also nostalgic for newspapers? Or have you preceded me into the brave new world in which they’re… well, disposable?


Claudia said...

I will dearly miss the paper newspaper. Ours is being trimmed daily to the point where there almost isn't any newspaper left, much less news. Now they want to eliminate the tv section. I can't figure out how to use the grid on my satellite tv thing. I prefer the visual of all the tv offerings on one big sheet of paper. I am actually considering subscribing to the Wash Post just to get some real news. I like something I can carry with me (and not on some stupid electronic device). Something I can take into the bathroom with me. The paper itself also has a life after its been read. Soaks up water well when I'm doing something messy, makes a handy floor covering when I paint. The kids make hats out of it. I will not go gently into this good night. I will cry and scream when newspapers cease to exist.

Harriet said...

I, too, will miss the newspaper. It's not just about getting the news -- we get the NY Times, which, in its national addition, often means the news is a little old by the time we get the paper. We get breaking news via the radio or computer. But the ritual of coffee and the paper is one I'm not ready to give up. Plus, as Claudia pointed out, we use it for painting on, cleaning mirrors, making silly hats, packing breakable things, papier mache sculptures, fire starter, etc. While I may be ready to set my computer on fire very shortly, I'm not sure it's really going to make up for the loss of the newspaper.

Lori L said...

I read the newspaper every day since I was in high school in the 70's... until about a year and a half ago. We moved again and I didn't immediately subscribe to a local paper. For about 6 months my husband brought me one home from work. It was at that point that I knew I would not be subscribing to a paper. Like Harriet mentioned, I do miss the ritual of morning coffee and the paper.

Alison said...

I miss the days when I had time to read the paper. It was the one real plus of a long Metro commute. And Sundays used to be about lounging around in our PJs and reading the Post from front to back, but for the last few years we were just accumulating them until, eventually, they'd go into the recycling, unread. We finally canceled the paper, but I still miss those days.

PAJ said...

This is an issue close to my heart. Of course I'm nostalgic for newspapers. When I was in journalism school in the early 1980s, we frequently talked about the future of newspapers. Most of us (all "print" students) were convinced newspapers would survive because TV news was so inferior, and papers allowed one to read the news at one's leisure. We were journalism students, not fortune tellers, so we didn't envision a day when everyone would walk around carrying phones smaller than wallets that can provide access to the contents of newspapers, television broadcasts, and magazines.
It saddens me to hear of newsroom layoffs and newspapers that cease operations. The slimmer paper that arrives on my doorstep every day is a reminder to me that I am from a different era. But I'll keep reading that paper. If it goes out of business, I'll subscribe to a different paper.
These days I read some "news" blogs but still look to newspapers (and their websites) for information I'm certain has been through a gatekeeping process. Everything else is just rumor.
Newspapers aren't dead, yet. In fact, subscriptions to papers published for immigrant populations are increasingly fairly rapidly.
Finally, nothing beats a newspaper for protecting the floor when one polishes one's shoes or the table when one is dyeing Easter eggs!

lemming said...

When I lived in Small University Town, I was a very faithful daily reader of the local paper. Sure it suffered from typos and I once became so frustrated by a senior reporter's complete inability to distinguish between it's and its that I called the editor to report that I knew when said reporter had written supposedly anonymous editorials because of it... but it did a damed fine job and I quickly learned all of the background information to various on-going issues.

Plus it had good comics.

Now I live in a large Midwestern City and you couldn't pay me to wrap dead fish in the travesty which poses as the local newspaper. I'm vaguely aware that teh paper has shrunk and stopped home delivery on certain days and in the case of this paper, I can honestly say that it deserves such a fate. Poor quality reporting, a poorly structured paper and one which reinforces every negative stereotype about this region and shoddy reporting deserve to be retired.

I end up, sadly enough, getting the majority of my local news from loggers and dog-walkers.

Ron Griggs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron Griggs said...

OK, so would you be willing to pay twice as much for your local Daily Post-Tribune Herald-Times? Especially if it would return to its original glory? (I think I would.) Would you pay three times as much? (I don't know...)

Sadly, this doesn't seem to be the option that newspapers are offering.

Jeanne said...

I agree with everyone who has commented here about the usefulness of newspapers for everything besides reading--we need them for the rabbit hutch and the bottom of the birdcage, in addition to haircuts and other occasional uses. But old newspapers do tend to pile up around here, especially the shiny ad inserts that aren't absorbent and aren't a standard size.

So I'm not giving up my subscription to the Columbus Dispatch, or even the very local Mount Vernon News. But yes, Ron, I agree that we'd gladly pay twice what we pay now for the better newspaper of old.

PAJ, I also agree about news that has been through a "gatekeeping" process. I like blogs for their amateur content, but I do think that a free--and professional-- press is one of the most important cornerstones of Democracy. That's yet another reason I'm sad to see newspapers shrinking.

Jeanne said...

Lemming: "loggers"???
Somehow I'm thinking that my picture of a lumberjack isn't the right one!