Friday, January 11, 2013

The Sad State of Newspapers

My last post about routines got me thinking about an important part of my day. Like many in our generation, OG and I have a longstanding habit of starting the day by reading the newspaper with breakfast. We trade sections and comment on items of interest. It’s all very civilized. And becoming painfully obsolete.

When we were growing up in Kansas City, there were two daily papers—one in the morning and one in the afternoon—and we read both. As a student at Vassar in the ‘seventies, I had a subscription to The New York Times delivered to my dorm. I’ve always been a serious consumer of newsprint. Now we find ourselves considering abandoning what passes for a modern daily in a major metropolitan area.

Clark Kent and his colleagues at The Daily Planet would spin in their graves if they saw this pitiful specimen. On weekdays, an entire section may consist of only two large, folded pieces of paper—eight printed pages in total. It wasn’t long ago that our paper had a small Washington bureau; now the staff consists of a handful of local reporters. Every article of national or international news is taken from another source—the AP, The New York Times, or occasionally The Washington Post. And worse, the stories are stale, often appearing two days after I read them on the Internet.

Ah, yes, the Internet. The culprit behind the demise of newspapers.

Don’t misunderstand, I love the Internet. I’ve learned important things and met wonderful friends on the web. Readers buy my books from online stores. You wouldn’t be reading this if it weren’t for the Internet, and I would have no venue for my ramblings. But still, it’s hard to accept what’s happened to newspapers. My sister reads her daily Times on her tablet, and I know some day I’ll have to do the same. It’s inevitable, but my mind and heart rebel. Breakfast with an iPad just won’t be the same.

Besides, I don’t want another expensive electronic gadget that requires yet one more monthly fee. Like every member of her generation, my daughter has a smart phone. Many days I feel I’m the only one left on the planet without one. But for myself, I don’t see the need. I reluctantly got a cell phone a few years ago for business trips and possible emergencies, and I’ll admit it’s come in handy more than once. However, OG and I already have a desktop computer and three laptops. We don’t need to check stock prices or find a restaurant on the go—we’re not on the go all that often. And I can’t bear the thought of trying to read on such a tiny screen; I even had to bump the print size up a level on my Kindle.

And then there’s the cost. We’re not destitute, but part of the appeal of retirement is the opportunity to simplify life, not figure out ways to make it more complicated and expensive. Every new “must have” gadget comes with an infinite price tag. There’s no such thing as choosing the item that fits your needs and simply buying it. If you want it to actually do anything, you have to resign yourself to making regular payments. And you can rest assured the manufacturers will do everything in their power to render your choice obsolete as quickly as possible.

Which leads us back to the newspaper. I know there’s a regular cost to my subscription and the quality of the product has deteriorated, but I’ll still miss it when I eventually give up and grudgingly go electronic. How about you? Are you an iPad convert? Give me some reassurance, please.

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