Two weeks ago, I swallowed my shock at spending over six dollars for a newspaper, and bought a Sunday New York Times. It was a revelation, a joy and so completely absorbing that I periodically had to remind myself to stop reading, and do something useful. Comparisons are odious and all, but since I started reading the Times, I am feeling the pain and guilt of finding a new love and leaving the old one with great relief and not much of a parting glance. Our local paper, despite being the only offering in this state’s capital, has lost all of its charm. It was purchased by some national publishing conglomerate which clearly labors under the impression that, because we live in Flyover, even the goings-on under the Capital dome do not require an experienced and intelligent writing staff. Wire service reports are good enough for us, sometimes about events that occur within 50 miles of our circulation area.
Aside from the odd story about local high school sports heroes or a 1 – inch report on a local crime, the vast majority of our paper is compiled from wire stories, and many of the photographs are either file photos or pictures of folks in some other state getting ready to storm Wal-Mart or protesting taxes. Sometimes, a story about, say, preparations for Hanukkah will be written by a local reporter, and feature one photograph from a nearby temple and one photograph of Jewish families in Rye or Austin spinning their dreidls. Nice people, I have no doubt, but part of the joy of a local paper is finding a friend or neighbor captured on newsprint. There is no cutting out and saving these photos of strangers, or attaching them to the refrigerator with magnets.
Gone, too, are the witty and insightful local columnists I used to read (except one), gone are most of the reviews of local concerts and theater, and gone is anything in the “Living” section about anyone “living” within a 300-mile radius of this town. Writers, photographers and editors have lost their jobs, and the few that remain are spread thin. There was more local coverage during the 2008 elections, and since I was working press for a Congressional campaign, I had occasion to speak with and submit press releases to a couple of good reporters who seemed to be intelligent and thoughtful; it looks like they have lost their jobs in the ensuing year. I understand what happened; print media is facing tough times, and newspapers everywhere are suffering, cutting back and shuttering the presses.
For a long time I kept reading, sticking with an unsatisfying relationship from a strong sense of duty, but not much love. When I realized that I was reading everything of interest to me in about 10 minutes, I had a Come-to-Jesus with myself. There was no national news in our paper that didn’t come from wire reports; I was getting all of my national news online. That made the entire “News” section a loss aside from the Op-Ed page, where I might find something of interest, or I might find nothing but a letter from an eccentric rural resident denouncing flouridated water and a column by Cal Thomas. I read the obituaries in the “B” section, recycled the Sports and TV sections, and scanned Dear Amy and Miss Manners in the “D” section. Usually, I had not finished my first cup of coffee before I hit the wire service stories at the end of the “D” section about making adorable Christmas crafts out of leftover candy wrappers, or the revelation that some people gain weight during the first year of college.
Although I had sampled the Times that my parents received every Sunday, I had never considered just, well, reading the whole thing as my paper. I liked to steal the “Sunday Styles,” the magazine and the “Book Review;” occasionally I would snag a “Travel” or “Arts” section if something grabbed me. Last Sunday, when I opened my wallet wide and bought my own, whole Times, the earth moved. Not only was it vastly superior to the barely re-heated content of the local rag; it was a much better experience to read it “in person” instead of sitting at my desk staring at my computer. I want the paper to be a paper, to be real, and tangible and have big, papery pages that get tangled up when I try to fold them neatly.
I read all of the news, I read editorials written with great care, I read about concerts, organ transplants, working at Wal-Mart, the rise and fall of “Reader’s Digest,” Patricia Highsmith, a 90-something abstract artist making it big, and a collection of short pieces by various “real” writers about telling lies at the holidays. I thought about military strategy, architecture, medical ethics, grammar, and Great Britain between the Wars. I literally, literally laughed and cried. I clipped a recipe for Manchurian Cauliflower and an article for my dad, and made little notes about books to read and movies to see. I did the puzzle. Like harvesting every scrap of meat off of a chicken carcass and then using the bones for soup, I picked and dug until I had extracted every bit of substance from the pile of newsprint on the dining room table. For less than the cost of a movie, or even a paperback book, I had been entertained and provoked and kept busy for hours and hours. It was real love.
I understand that, like our local embarrassment, the Times is facing serious problems of its own these days. I hope it helps, a little, that my husband gave me a Sundays-only subscription as Christmas gift, a sign that he, like the Times, is the Real Deal . When it arrived yesterday morning in its blue plastic bag, I fell in love all over again. Never mind that it will come every Sunday, or that, according to some critics, it “isn’t what it used to be;” I am still in the first heady part of the love affair. I removed it from its wrapper and separated it into sections (removing “Sports” because I don’t care about sports no matter how good the writing is). I divvied it up so that it would last through the week, reasoning that the front section and the “Week in Review” had to be read first so that I had the news under my belt while it was still news. After that Sunday dose of current events, I organized the remainder of the paper so that the “best stuff,” and the biggest stuff would be left for last. Monday would be “Business,” Tuesday”Travel,” Wednesday “Arts & Leisure,” Thursday the beloved “Sunday Styles,” and the “Book Review” and magazine for Friday and Saturday when I had earned a good, long read and had the time to have one.
Or I may just gorge and read all the rest of it today, because its kind of still The Holidays, and I can probably get away with it if I remember to do the laundry, answer e-mails from my boss, speak courteously to my family and make something for dinner. I am a little afraid that I may lose this treasure, that it will go the way of other print media and die slowly and painfully like our local paper, or from a sudden vicious death-blow to the bottom line. I could probably find out more about the prognosis, but honestly, I’m afraid to look. I don’t want to read it all on my computer or my Blackberry; I admit that this love is not all about soul and substance, but about appearances and physical gratification. I love it that this paper is a paper, from the smudges on my fingers to the “ah” of putting my pencil to the Crossword. I am smitten, enraptured and probably way too attached for my own good, but surely you’ve been here yourself, and you’ll understand if I cling a little, and pray that this one will last….