Friday, May 15, 2009

The News --- On Paper

I'm one of a dying breed, or so I've been told. I read newspapers. Lots and lots of newspapers. And I read them every day. I can't eat my oatmeal without the comics and Ann Landers (or whoever is writing that column now.... it'll always be Ann Landers to me). I read the local news to find out who's been robbed or crashed a car into a light pole or won a spelling bee or donated her house to the homeless coalition. High school sports are a big part of my morning, too. Softball, wrestling, track and field - I'll never go to watch them participate, but I keep up with the standings and know when CDO beats Salpointe.

Memories of Sunday morning on the living room floor with Newsday's comics still make me smile. Letters to the Editor were always good for a diversion - did I know anyone who'd been published? What was for sale in the want ads? Then, on to the Sam Goody ad in The New York Times; plotting where to invest my allowance based on whose albums were on sale took up a good chunk of the morning. The obituaries was one of my favorite sections, ever mindful of Daddoooo's definition of a good day (when the average age in the obits was older than he was). But the wedding announcements were my favorite. 27 Dresses may have portrayed the "commitments" beat as a sinkhole for talent, but I agree with Katherine Heigl's character -- it's the best part of the paper. How they met, what their parents thought, the ridiculous lengths they went to in order to be together, why they're marrying on a beach at midnight, how the antique dress was altered and on and on and on. Receptions at Tavern on the Green, ceremonies performed by newly ordained ministers of the Church of the Internet, bridesmaids who flew in from 17 different countries - I drank it all in.

I'd save the NYTimes Magazine for the afternoon. If we were going to the beach, that was all I needed to pack to keep me occupied. The articles were always just a little bit too long, and the bra ads just a little too ubiquitous (Daddoooo again: "There's more pornography on display in the NYT Sunday Magazine than in Times Square!!!!"), but that didn't matter. There was a comforting sequence to the information presented, with the Letters and William Safire at one end and the puzzle and the one page essay at the other. The world might be going to hell in a handbasket as reported in the front sections of the paper, but the magazine had a stability to it that anchored the unsettling news.

Moving to a new community, the local newspaper is my first glimpse of what I'm getting into. Local events, full page ads, small snippets at the bottom of page 3 - I read them all when I'm new. More than anything else, the local newspaper reflects the tenor of the town. How many times does the weather make the headlines? Here in Tucson, it's more often than you'd imagine. POLLEN, it screamed one day. And, although that was the headline that convinced TBG that, in fact, he did have allergies, was it really the most important thing in the world that day? For those of us living here, the answer was a resounding "YES". And the newspaper knew it. That headline was the talk of the bagel shop and the gym and the dry cleaner and the dinner table. The newspaper had captured us all and made us a community in a way that "new media" just can't match.

Without plugging in a cord or turning on a switch, the world is in my lap. I won't electrocute myself by reading it in the tub. I can fold it up and stick it in my purse for later. There's a friendly messiness to the whole experience - learning the trick of reading the NYTimes on the subway is as close to origami as I'll ever get - that is immediate and mediated and moves at my own personal pace.

Tomorrow, more on what I am reading now, and why.

G'ma, during a "mental status" exam: "And what's today's date?" "Do you have a newspaper? Let me look and I'll tell you. How else would I know that?"


  1. Just going to throw it out there, but the new media does not destroy the sense of community as you allude to. Rather it redefines it. For example, I can relate with friends thousands of miles apart about what Deadspin had to say about the latest ESPN/Simmons spat. And have that same discussion three times in one day, with very different people. New media merely redefines the geography of your life from your physical proximity to others (old media) to the filters you chose to place on your life (new media).

    Ok, that's very disjointed and might not make sense, but I understood it, and that's all that matters.

  2. I agree with everything you said, disjointed though it might be. I was making a different point. New media requires electricity/battery/mediation to connect people to one another. There's "another step" before you get the information. Unless you're in line at the post office or in Times Square, news isn't presented electronically as you scan your eyes. A newspaper headline, though, is immediate, available and requires no mediation. You didn't need an account or a power source or anything, really, except the ability to read in order to be part of the conversation about POLLEN!!

    The sense of community created by physical proximity is minimal in this world of single occupant vehicles moving in air-conditioned comfort from one meaningless commercial interaction to another. POLLEN!! created a community enhanced by the headline.


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