Thursday, March 12, 2009

VFTW has a bit about the newspaper business, or the end thereof, which is interesting. I have not been paying attention to the whole story per se, but I have been experiencing it.

I miss reading the newspaper. I love the big unwieldy thing in my fingers, foldable in every direction. You could tear out whatever, and then toss the rest. And the general utilitarian qualities of newspaper are like no other human thing. Their ubiquity is diminishing, and now I have to go scraping around the house if I need an extra piece of newspaper for lining the cat box or starting a fire. I love the unique experience of drawing down old Christmas ornaments and noting the aged date on the newspaper they're wrapped in. I remember the time when I would go down to the coffee shop and sit there for an hour and a half, perusing the L.A. Times. This was back when Starbucks were only a paltry few in the northwest, and no one was answering cel phones or angling for a good Wi-Fi signal -but alas, now I'm sounding like grampa.

For some odd reason, I was actually a subscriber to the New York Times when 9/11 hit. The NYT had some sweet deal and I signed up (they're still trying to get me back) and on 9/12 I got this on my Santa Barbara doorstep:

I think I still have it. The coverage was awesome to read. Among other things, they had a 250 word obituary for every lost American, however average. The tv coverage was unforgettable as well, but it was not digestible as the paper was, and I'll be sad when all the papers are gone forever. Important events will be little more than distant manicured images, unable to cut to your soul like good writing can. I fear we will all become, somehow, more detached.

I suspect that the newspaper business will reorganize on its own and become something else entirely, with the help of technology. Reporters will all go rogue with their own blogs or sites, charging for research, access, and advertising. And the only real newspapers on that black-and-grey medium will be the free loose-leafed weeklys, standing in messy piles in the corners of restaurant lobbies. CraigsList will do them in, eventually, but I think some will hang on. We still get a Sunday paper, which gets thinner and thinner with each passing week, and before church my wife and I sift through all the coupons and discuss the potential savings. I'm always preoccupied with turning directly to the Fry's ad on the back of the front section. (I'm addicted to it like some odd techno-porn, salivating at the thought of inexpensive SATA drives and the DDR2 PC6400s that're practically given away. Oh!)

The last couple years of reading the San Diego Union Tribune I've found that I've already read most of the AP articles on the Internet, and the other pieces on the sheets are either cropped to incomprehension to fit between the ads, slanted irretrievably to the political left, or so poorly written as to offend the birds and felines who eventually end up making good use of it. We don't have time to catch it every morning, so we called the newspaper to cancel the M-F subscription and they actually had the gall to charge us more for a Sunday-only delivery. They have to keep their circulation up in order to please the ad-buyers, so they shamelessly produce (literally) tons more trash for the world to reconcile. I took the hit and paid the extra for less.

They're trying everything. There are guys in the middle of every intersection of my neighborhood hawking the paper. They stand out in the traffic, begging for the sale. Sometimes there's two, or even three of them catching the cars going in every direction. I chatted with one guy once, who said the money went to a homeless charity or a rehab or some such thing, and the newspapers (and the sporty SDUT traffic vests) were given to them for free. Now, I don't mind the traditonal newspaper guy on one or two corners, shouting headlines like out of some old movie, but there are so many of theses vagrants out there knocking on car windows that I feel accosted sometimes. It slows traffic. It's a hazard. And it looks patently desperate. I suspect one day they will all just disappear quietly, when a city ordinance comes down on them or the paper goes belly-up once and for all.

We also get another newspaper thrown on our driveway once, and sometimes twice a week. It's a free local thing that I rarely read and goes right in the recycle bin. We called them to try and get them to stop delivering it and -get this- they said they were going to charge us to stop delivery! I laughed it off and tried to forget about it, but I see those useless things sunburned and wet, piled up on the weedy driveways of local foreclosures, and I want to charge the newspaper company for blatant littering or illegal dumping.

One of those papers got tossed on my lawn last week and it had a bright red front page with HUGE newspaper lettering on the front. It got my attention, so I unfolded it to see what the noise was about. It read: WARNING! THIS MAY BE YOUR LAST ISSUE! YOU NEED TO CONTACT US IF YOU WANT TO CONTINUE DELIVERY! Not kidding. It was on every paper in the neighborhood. I suspect the brazen jokesters will bill us all.

So the newspapers have taken the train to Crazy Town, if you ask me. Sad. I remember my father most mornings as legs, fingers, big newspaper, and a cup of coffee on the table. You could hear him snickering and shaking his head at the bad news from behind the pages. My kids will never see that, and it won't matter that they don't, but as my father spoke long ago of a time that I could only imagine -one without televisions and theme parks and fences and rockets, and yet milk was delivered daily to the house- the days are coming when I will speak to my children of a similar far off-land, one that is only now dipping below the horizon and out of view. It was high school without cel phones and email, tv commercials without digital imagery, only five channels on a tube the size of several suitcases, and the news was delivered daily to the house ...printed on paper!

And no lattes.