My newspaper didn’t show up today. A missing Sunday paper is particularly irksome because it’s top-heavy with sale and coupon supplements. Happily, another paper was delivered about an hour after I called the Seattle Times circulation department.
One of these days there won’t be a paper – and not because someone stole it, or because my carrier’s Saturday night stretched into Sunday morning. It will be because newspapers have gone the way of the dodo.
At that point I’ll be seriously bummed. So will dog lovers, bird owners and the thrift store cashiers who insist on wrapping each cup or plate you buy in sheets of yesterday’s news.
The death of the newspaper has been predicted for ages now. But I think it’s really going to happen — certainly in my lifetime, and maybe within 10 years.
And then what will I use to cushion fragile items that I mail? What will my daughter put at the bottom of her cat’s litter box? For that matter, what will the folks who make their own cat litter use in place of shredded newsprint?
It’s versatile stuff
As an old print newshound (Anchorage Daily News, Chicago Tribune), I feel glum at the thought of not having a paper to enjoy with my morning oatmeal. I subscribe to the Seattle Times although it becomes thinner and sadder by the day.
Yet no matter how slim the news content, the physical product is pretty useful:
- Without newspapers, what will I put at the front door to soak up moisture from wet shoes? And boy, will I miss being able to say, “These are the Times that dry men’s soles.”
- What will bird owners put in the bottoms of the cages? How will people potty-train their puppies?
- Without the color comics I’ll need to buy gift wrap, or get creative about making my own.
- All you folks who use newspaper and a vinegar-water solution to clean windows and mirrors: Get ready to pony up for paper towels.
- Each summer when I make jam I cover the countertops with newspaper to catch the sticky drips that happen when I fill jars.
- And finally: Will all those Brits and Canadians be expected to eat fish ‘n’ chips from plates? Blasphemy.
Even if you don’t subscribe, many regions have “shopper” publications or alternative weeklies free for the taking. You can also use pages torn out of last year’s phone books – until phone books go bye-bye, too.
After that you’ll have to start paying for replacement products: bird-cage liners, foam packing peanuts, “training pads” for puppies. Oh, and paper towels. Lots of paper towels.
Much more troubling: Online-only news means that people who don’t have computers, iPhones or other electronic wonders won’t have ready access to information. In an essay on this topic, a writer named Amanda Moshier says that “modernizing the way we receive our information is a slippery slope.”
“(Once) commerce begins dictating who gets access to what information based on who can afford the latest wireless reader or a computer in their own home, we’re headed down the wrong path,” Moshier wrote.
Right now, people who don’t have computer access can use a newspaper as a way to make sense of the world. Sure, the news is “new” as of only about 11 p.m. the day before. But it gives the basics of a situation, coverage that will be updated in subsequent days’ papers.
And you can read and re-read it if necessary, if an idea is too amazing, unclear or infuriating to appreciate fully on the first try.
Please don’t write and tell me that “everybody” has access to computers now. Everybody doesn’t. Maybe everyone you know does, but here’s the thing: Not everyone in the world looks like you. Two potentially disenfranchised groups that come to mind are people with extremely limited incomes and people who live far from free Internet sources like libraries.
Besides, don’t be fooled into thinking that Internet-only news will save the planet. Sure, newspapers are a waste-heavy product – but so are the products I mentioned above (puppy pads et al.) that will replace the free fishwrap.
Of much greater concern is the recycling of “e-waste” – a growing ecological hot-button issue. How many people do you know who regularly upgrade computers, PDAs and cell phones?
Myself, I used the same desktop for more than five years. Then again, I’m still a newspaper subscriber. Fish ’n’ chips, anybody?