Does anybody read newspapers anymore? And if so, why?
There was a time, just three years ago, when I got three newspapers each morning. Living in Silicon Valley, I, of course, subscribed to the San Jose Mercury News. I bought it for the business stories, the movie listings and neighborhood news. Having once worked for the paper, there was a nostalgia factor as well.
I also subscribed to the San Francisco Chronicle -- not for the news coverage, for which that newspaper is notoriously bad, but for the columns and features, for which the paper is justly esteemed. The Chron was also the paper of my childhood; I learned column writing from the likes of Herb Caen, Art Hoppe and John L. Wasserman.
Finally, there was The Wall Street Journal, which I mostly read for the editorial and feature pages -- dipping into the news section mostly for story ideas. I used to dream of writing for a paper like the Journal -- and like many of life's dreams, once it came true it wasn't nearly as magical as the fantasy.
I also occasionally picked up the Sunday edition of The New York Times, mostly because it was America's Paper of Record, and also because I had once written a column for the newspaper -- and even turned down a job there because I didn't want to leave the Valley.
Three newspapers every morning. And I would likely have taken two more, the San Jose News and the Palo Alto Times (the latter because it once carried my Little League box scores) if they hadn't gone out of business in the general slaughter of evening papers. I was a true newspaper person: I loved reading them, I taught them in school, I regularly wrote for them, and always assumed that some day, after the TV and magazine stuff was over, I'd go back to them.
And then something happened.
I can't precisely place the moment when I stopped reading newspapers, but it was sometime during the dot-com boom. My family went off to Africa for a couple months one summer, cancelled our newspaper subscriptions, and when we got home never really got around to re-subscribing. Eventually, perhaps three months later, we did start again -- but by then the bloom was off.
First to go was the Times. That one was easy. I didn't write for it anymore. The kids kept me too busy on the weekend to read it. My colleagues always pointed out the interesting articles. And, most of all, because I didn't trust the Gray Lady's reporting anymore.
Next was the Merc. I found that the only thing I even looked at in the paper was the headlines in the business section -- and I could get those stories in other places. That, and the movie listings -- and when I needed those I could just drop four bits into a local newspaper rack. A few weeks ago, when the paper reprinted a column of mine in its Sunday Perspective section, I had to depend upon my 85-year-old mother to cut out the article. Otherwise, I wouldn't even have a hard copy.
Then came the Chron. Of all of them, that was the one I noticed most. I missed the arts section, especially the old Sunday pink section, and the columnists. But after a month or so, I didn't even notice.