Remember that riddle? “What’s black and white and read all over?”
Answer: A newspaper!
Well, apparently not.
Just yesterday, I read about the demise of another black and white newspaper – the Ann Arbor News. In two weeks, our local papers, The Detroit News and The Detroit Free Press, will severely limit their production and curtail their home delivery service to weekends only.
I started loving newspapers way back when I was a toddler – seriously. It was my job to get the paper off the porch each morning, and I remember being fascinated by the look of the big black, Old English letters on the masthead of the Free Press. Before long, I was learning to read off those black and white pages, sitting on my grandad’s lap while he read me the “funny pages” as we called the comics.
It was a small step from reading the paper to writing a paper. One of my earliest “toys” was an old Remington manual typewriter like the one in the banner on my blog. We kept it in the attic and I spent hours pounding away, writing “stories” for my own make believe newspapers. Is it any surprise that I created a paper for my fifth grade classroom, or that I was the only eighth grader allowed to be in journalism in middle school?
I fell away from newspaper writing in high school – music occupied all my time there. But I kept reading them, grabbing the Free Press off the porch every morning to get a first look at the news of the day, and read my favorite columnists – Bob Talbert, Nickie McWhirter, and then a young upstart guy named Mitch Albom (who wrote about sports but managed to relate them so well to life in general that I became a devoted reader.)
But sometime during the last 10 years my love affair with the newspaper ended. It probably started when my Free Press carrier (no longer the neighbor kid down the street, but an adult driving by in a car during the wee hours of the morning) began throwing my paper at the end of our long driveway rather than putting it on the porch. This meant I needed to put on some semblance of clothing before I could get my hands on the paper every day, and in the winter, it could also mean fishing the paper out of a heap of freshly fallen snow.
And then I began noticing there were more advertisements than stories, ads for cell phones and checking account offers taking up entire pages that once held long columns of newsprint. And the remaining news stories seemed poorly written, shorter and “dumbed down” for an audience with smaller attention spans and less education.
But of course the biggest death knell for my newspaper reading days was the advent of computer news. There was all the news I needed to know – and then some – available at the touch of mouse button.
No smell of newprint or smears of ink on my fingers, but you can’t have everything, right?
Obviously electronic media are replacing the necessity for newspapers. But as much as I love my computer, I sometimes miss holding the newspaper in my hand, the crackle of paper as I fold over the page and crease it down the middle. I miss the stain left by my coffee cup when I set it down on the pile of read pages. Miss tearing out a favorite cartoon, or clipping a column to save in my file of ideas for stories.
My friend L. is the biggest newspaper hound I’ve ever known. He’s made a daily ritual of reading both Detroit papers cover to cover, first thing every morning. At age 74, he’s not likely to start reading them online. In just a few days, when home delivery ceases, he’ll have to get in his car and drive to a newstand to get the paper. I have no doubt that he’ll do that, probably taking his dog with him, at least for as long as these papers continue to publish their print editions. His dedication to newsprint shames me a bit, me and my infidelity, my defection to the internet as my news source. All this makes me wonder where news will come from twenty years from now, when I’m 74, what the relentless march of technological time has in store for me. So far I’ve managed to keep up pretty well, but I wonder if a day will come when I no can no longer comprehend how to operate the latest and greatest gadget, when I find myself stubbornly stuck in what has become hopelessly passe.
I’m saddened by the fact that newspapers aren’t read all over anymore, that even the word “news-paper” may someday become meaningless because the object it names is obsolete. And I worry a little bit about what might become outmoded next. But I realize there’s no stopping change progress either, that the world moves on and sweeps us up in it, whether we like it or not.
How about you? Where do you read your news? Do you think electronic media will consume the newspaper entirely?