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The New York Times: A Love Story

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….

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About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

22 responses »

  1. You have to think that some of the “big ones” will stay around. You can’t be the first to have got rid of the local and gone to a NYT? I also finally cancelled the local paper. I keep getting mailings asking why??and I can’t help but think, “if you don’t know why we have much bigger problems…” it is a terrible paper. When my 9 year old has to write his sweepstakes questions for the week, he grabs the lap top, goes to CNN.com and starts reading news articles looking for an obscure question for International and National so only he’ll know the answer. Then he begrudgingly goes to lsj.com to look for a local question and complains about the website they have and that it’s hard to manuver….he’s NINE. I watch him do this and don’t have much hope for the print media…

    Reply
    • Gosh I hope it stays around, and I KNOW I’m not the only person around here to bail on the LSJ and “take up with” the Times instead. I thoroughly remember the news-gathering from 4th grade, and we did it all online, even hunting through the incoherent and badly organized LSJ website to get local news. The sad thing is that there are journalists here who could do a much better job; there’s just no money to pay them.

      Reply
  2. Ann,

    But what, oh what, would you wrap fish in?

    Reply
  3. I remember telling you that after church can be too late to hunt down a Sunday paper in the local stores. This week, I realized after church that this was the week when the magazine would be devoted to “The Lives they Lived” and that I needed to have a physical copy. Lucky me. At 1:00 on Sunday, L&L Lake Lansing still had two copies left. Times delivery is the best gift ever! I do a great comic 10 minute rant on why I don’t get it delivered any more. Rest assured, my reasons will have no bearing on your shiny new gift unless you move next door.

    Reply
    • It is the GREATEST gift ever, and no one can dissuade me from my new, true love. I’m glad you got a copy – I’ll always share, but it isn’t the same after someone else has pawed through it…..

      Reply
  4. Oh, a friend of mine from college constructs NYTimes X-word puzzles. Watch for her by-line: Paula Gamache. It was she who introduced me to NYTimes X-words 40-odd years ago.

    Reply
    • I’ll look out for her. The puzzle is such a great finishing touch to a satisfying read…I can never find a sharp pencil with an eraser, though. Maybe next Christmas.

      Reply
  5. Doesn’t fish-wrapping count as recycling? You could wrap a Whale Shark with last weeks NYT.

    Reply
    • In the unlikely event that I needed to wrap a Whale Shark, yes, I believe I could do it with last Sunday’s Times. It does count as recycling, although as i told Robert, I’m more likely to be packing boxes or just putting the paper in the old recycling bin…what is it with you Floridians and your fish?!

      Reply
  6. I think I am going to do my part to keep the Times alive by getting a subscription! I always buy it when I am at the beach..and always love every word! My parents took it every day..Dad loved Science day and mom was all over food day..
    yesteday when I pulled out all of the ads and the classifieds and the sports..there was almost nothing left…I read our local Sunday Tennessean with 1 cup of coffee…The times requires A POT!.
    I love a real newspaper , spread out all over the table..reading it on a computer is just so wrong! hansk for reminding me how much I like the smell of newsprint!

    Reply
  7. We gave up on the LSJ a year ago. I got sick and tired of all the things you mentioned (AP wire stories, no local stories, etc.). If I’m going to support a local paper, I want local coverage.

    As far as the New York Times…with two little ones, it’ll be a few years before I can even envision a Sunday where there is time to read at length (relatively undisturbed). There are too many diapers to change these days. 😉

    Reply
    • I hate to tell you this, but all I have left is a 12-year-old and I STILL can’t read it all on a Sunday unless there’s been a snowstorm or maybe a nuclear holocaust. That has to do with general busy-ness, though; small children present unique problems to the would-be newspaper reader. I wouldn’t trade two beautiful kids for a quiet read, though…most of the time…..

      Reply
  8. At this point I’d rather have an incontinent St. Bernard in my home than a print paper of any kind. But it is moving, in a really shameful way, to know that somebody is still grokking this dead medium.

    It’s like a message to the future: “Once there were newspapers, and they all sucked, even (or especially) the New York Times. But we read them — not because they were decent but because we were decent.”

    Reply
    • Fair enough, but I really do love it. Maybe it’s just because I’m very, very old, but I like it on paper, and the content is perfect for me. I’m grokking on…..

      Reply
  9. I followed this post from a link in my Twitter feed:

    @txvoodoo RT @michaelluo: Just reveling in this reader’s blog post again, on NYT: A Love Story. Can’t we make this go viral? https://imagineannie.wordpress.com/2009/12/28/the-new-york-times-a-love-story/

    I saw your domain name and thought to myself “Hey, I know her.”

    Hope you’re doing well and that you get Digital Farm installed in due time. I know you hate off-topic comments, so delete this one at will.

    Happy new year!

    Reply
    • Erica, of course I haven’t gotten around to “moving” yet…some day soon.

      Happy New Year to you, too – it’s a smaller world out there than some would have us believe….

      Reply
  10. Hi Annie!

    I hope that you had a Merry Christmas! It certainly seems so especially with the NYT subscription and all! My father used to work for the Montreal Star until it closed and then he worked for the Montreal Gazette until his retirement about 2 years ago. When he initially started at the paper he was working in the mail room and then he became an apprentice layout artist. This job is now all done on computer but I used to remember him coming home with special wax pencils. He used to complain about the paper quite a bit so I became familiar with popular complaints from readers and spelling mistakes and filler stories. I like to think I am not that bad at deciding whether or not a paper is any good because of him!

    The next time I go to NYC I want a picture in front of their building! I am so jealous that you are getting it delivered to your home! I have to run out to pick it up here in Toronto (which I’ll be doing more often after the above statements), but it is a much better paper than most of papers up here.

    Reply
    • I did, and the Times was kind of the icing on the (very good) cake. I hope you did, as well.

      I love the story about your dad working for the paper – it’s not personal nostalgia, but for some reason I get all choked up about the idea of people actually MAKING a paper, using their hands, and eyes, and tools (like wax pencils) to get it right. I’m sure it was a pain for those who actually had to do it all, but I love the idea of a newspaper as having the soul of the writers, editors, lay-out artists and printers. Okay; I’m a sap.

      I wish you could get home delivery. It’s the pinnacle of luxury, and so far, my one Sunday-with-delivery was like Christmas all over again, knowing it would be waiting for me outside. Sigh.

      Reply
  11. Yes, The Lansing State Journal is AWFUL. You expressed it so well. Haven’t subscribed for years. I use the online NYTimes.

    Reply
  12. Hello! Quick question that’s totally off

    topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My site looks weird when

    viewing from my apple iphone. I’m trying to find a theme or plugin that

    might be able to correct this problem. If you have any suggestions, please share.

    Cheers!

    Reply

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