Today, for the first time in years, I picked up a copy of the newspaper in the morning.
I didn’t buy it from the drugstore, like my dad would on Sundays when I was little. And I didn’t pick it up from the driveway, like I would have in high school, shaking off condensation from its plastic wrapper. Instead, I had literally picked up off the desk of another, when I saw it lying there. It wasn’t even fresh news; it was from last Wednesday, and he in turn had gotten it for free at the student center.
Still. It was attractive all the same, that copy of more-than-Yesterday’s news. I slipped it under my arm, and went out the door. I took it with me, on the subway, and felt more Manhattanite than I had ever felt in my life. Here I was, boots and all, on my way downtown for a coffee meeting, and here, by my side, was the New York Times. When i got to the cafe, I realized that I had gotten ink all over my fingers. I had forgotten that newspapers smudged, and it gave me a secret joy.
In 2014, it is widespread knowledge that newspapers are Dinosaurs. Printed news is rapidly going extinct and the new forms of Media that replace it suffer from existential and identity crises. Is longform a thing of the past? Is there even a need for Journalism School? Will it all just be listicles from here on out? (If so, I’m moving to Walden Pond.)
I maintain that there is, and always will be, a need for well-executed, professional Journalism. Whether or not there exists a profitable market, however, is another question. How do we ensure the financial means to support the field?
It’s a good question, one that neither I nor anyone else that I know of has the answer to. The transition from paper to digital isn’t a simple transcribing from one medium to the other. Profit models do not translate. Most significant are the psychological shifts that occur. Newspapers, and their institutions, are built on history, legacy, and tradition. By decentralizing news distribution with the internet, the castle collapses.
When you remove the physicality of the paper, you remove its nostalgic power. That is a great power, and it should never be underestimated in the human psyche. Turning the pages, familiar faces smile back– Dowd, Bruni, Bittman, Wells, bringing me back to familial scenes of kitchen tables and coffee. Jumping over paywalls, those same names feel antagonistic and elitist on the web. Whereas I would easily pay a dollar or two for a fat stack of paper, the Internet, with its culture of free information, incites the hacker in me to do everything in my power to take what I can.
Opening the paper on the subway is a symbol, one that denotes a certain level of education, class, and age. It is a desirable thing to own. On an iPad, a phone, or laptop, all of that is lost. It could be the Post, it could be Ulysses, it could be Fifty Shades of Gray– who knows?
The newspaper from WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2014 sits beside me still, keeping company with the coffee that has long grown cold. When I finish writing, both of them will go into the trash.
“All the News That’s Fit to Print”, it says, somewhat forebodingly.