Last week I canceled my newspaper subscription. It was a momentous step for me because I’d been reading newspapers for the better part of 60 years.Like most people , I started out reading the funnies as a kid, then expanded my interests to the sports page before finally reading the rest of the news. Of course, in later years I’d been going in the opposite direction. The world news has been so depressing that I’d gone back to reading just the sports news and the comics. And at times, when my teams had suffered yet another devastating defeat, I’d been tempted to stick only to the comics !
My reasons for cancelling my subscription were twofold. Firstly, I was unable to get it renewed at the concessional rate I’d been enjoying; I’d have had to pay more than twice as much to renew. Secondly, I’d been getting more and more of my news through the Internet.With access to uncounted newspapers worldwide, I found that it was far more than I could get from a single print source.
Nevertheless, my decision was not made lightly. There is a pleasure in reading newspapers that cannot be replicated by viewing them on a computer screen. The ritual of going out early in the morning and picking up the newspaper from the driveway, the ritual of opening the crisp new sheets as one sips the morning cuppa, the sense of anticipation as one glimpses the headlines… these are all unique to reading a newspaper in print though lately the pleasure had been somewhat diluted by the immediacy of TV and the Internet. By the time one read it in the newspaper, one had already seen it in on TV or the computer. Reading was more in the nature of a recap rather than ‘breaking news’.
It’s been a week now that I’ve been without newspapers and , surprisingly, it hasn’t been as wrenching as I expected. Within two days I weaned myself of the habit of going out to pick up the newspaper from the driveway.And I know just as much ( or as little) of the news as I used to. I’m able to access papers all over the USA , indeed all over the English speaking world, and am in fact able to get a variety of viewpoints on the subject by choosing to read ( onscreen) the newspapers closest to where a particular story is happening.Among the things that I do miss are the daily bridge column, the Sunday supplement and , above all, the local news. No longer will I be able to find out if my neighbor has been elected to the local school board . Nor will I be able to find out if my neighbor across the street has been appointed police director. In order to find these things out, I’ll have to read the newspaper at the nearby public library, something I plan to do once a week.
I must admit I felt, and still feel, a some guilt over having canceled my subscription. The newspaper industry is going through troubled times as it fights to survive. I remember m y friend Bill saying to me , more than twentyfive years ago, that newspapers were an archaic, wasteful and inefficient way of delivering the news and would soon be a thing of the past. I knew that he was correct in what he was saying but I did not think it would happen in my lifetime. However the past five or so years have proved him right as more and more newspapers have folded as a result of declining readership. Those that are left are barely hanging in there and face an uncertain future. It is not just the competion from TV and the Internet that newspapers face. I fear that we Americans are becoming more and more averse to reading ; we would rather not make the effort to read and would prefer to see or hear the news read out to us on TV . This is bad news for us as a society because less reading means a decline in our thinking ability, in our reasoning power and in our critical faculties.
I have a young friend who is a reporter at the Wall Street Journal.Thinking that she might have more insight on the subject I asked her her opinion about the future of newspapers. She was unable to add to what I knew. She thought that at some point in the future, as the reading public became younger and less computer-phobic, newspapers would only be available on line and at a price ( less than that which we now pay for the print version). That gave rise to the question ” Would a public accustomed to getting news’ for free’ over the Internet be willing to pay a fee , however nominal it might be ? That is a question for which there is no answer, at least at the present time.
The June issue of Bookpage carries an interview with my favorite mystery author Michael Connelly. Connelly was himself a reporter and the protagonist of his latest novel is a newspaper journalist.This is what Connelly has to say as more newspapers around the country shut down , ” I think what is lost is a community center, a place of news and ideas and debate. It will be splintered among websites and blogs . Perhaps more important is the loss of a watchdog. Who will keep an eye on the small stuff ? Who will uncover the small corruptions that lead to the bigger ones? Will the bloggers do it ? Will websites do it ? ‘m not sure.”
How true. Personally I don’t think websites or blogs can adequately replace newspapers in the sphere of investigative journalism. They do not have the resources, they do not have the reach and they do not have the authority that a newspaper does. Television will be our primary source of news and we will all be the poorer for it.