That was more than a year ago. These days, when I take the kids to school, the only newspaper lying on my driveway is the Wall Street Journal (my paper recycle bin is amazingly light these days). I only subscribe to that because my wife likes to read it in print form. If not for her, I wouldn't have even seen the column I wrote for that paper last week.
Now keep in mind: I've been involved with newspapers, in some form or another, for a quarter century. If I don't see a compelling reason to read them, why should anyone else?
And I'm not alone. In talking with some of my colleagues, men and women who had spent as many years, if not more, than me in newspapers, most of them have also admitted to rarely opening a paper anymore. One friend sheepishly said that he didn't even read the newspaper at which he had shared two Pulitzer Prizes.
That's why I wasn't surprised when one major metropolitan newspaper after another in the last year has had to revise downward their inflated circulation. I knew they were lying, not just to their advertisers, but to themselves. I'd been through the whole dance of allowing a subscription to expire…only to have the paper call and beg me to come back; or, as a last resort, simply drop the paper for free on my driveway in order to keep the empty subscription numbers propped up. I got real tired of lugging out a recycle bin filled with still-wrapped newspapers just so some publisher could defraud his advertisers.
For a long time I rationalized that somehow newspapers would survive, that they still retained some inherent advantage over other media formats -- especially the Internet -- that would enable them to survive. I used to think it was portability and ease of use -- until lightweight laptops and Blackberries came along. Then I thought it was the quality of the images -- until I started regularly downloading MPEGs … who needs blurry out-of-register still images bleeding on cheap newsprint when you can watch a Quick-time movie on a 20-inch display?
The last redoubt for the survival of newspaper was, in my mind, accessibility. Hopping from section to section, story lead to story jump, just seemed so much easier than crawling through a long story on a computer screen. Then I saw the first links embedded in blogs. There was simply nothing in the physical world that could ever hope to match the ability to leap through cyberspace from story to story, file to file, with almost infinite extension.
Looking back, it was then that I stopped reading print newspapers.
Needless to say, I still read the news, much of it coming from the newspapers I used to religiously read. But I am not reading the "paper," either literally or figuratively, that the publishers want me to read. Throughout the day, I construct my own newspaper in cyberspace, a real-time assemblage of wire service stories, newspaper features, blogs, bulletin boards, columns, etc. I suspect most of you do, too.