I spent a few hours at the public library yesterday, researching an upcoming article and working on a preliminary outline. Being me, I brought along a snack (peanuts from a giant Costco can) and a soft drink* that I’d partially frozen and wrapped in newspaper (diet sodas taste better very, very cold).
When I unwrapped the drink my eye fell on the newspaper’s date: June 20, 2016.
Aside from a little fraying around the edges the section was as readable as it ever was, although I’ve been using it fairly often for more than two years now.
Oh, newsprint: I will miss you when you’re gone.
Yesterday brought the news that The New York Daily News laid off half its staff in order to focus on digital coverage. While some regional newspapers are doing well, larger papers struggle.
As an old print newshound, I mourn the loss for personal as well as society-wide reasons. Cries of “fake news!” are a diversion from the newspaper’s stated purpose: To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
And to produce a daily or mostly daily item that’s incredibly useful, too.
A newspaper is more than news
Broadsheets and tabloids alike catch paint drips, spillover during the filling of jam jars, urine from un-housebroken puppies. They sit in the front hall so people can put wet shoes and boots on them, giving us all the chance to intone, “These are The Times that dry men’s soles.” #sorrynotsorry
They get folded into bird cages, cushion items being mailed, and sometimes are used to wrap fish and chips. Vinegar (another magic item) mixed with water and some newspaper cleans windows more affordably than paper towels and Windex.
Color comics make great gift wrap. The newsprint sections are swell for kindling the fireplace, wood stove or camp fire.
A design-build guy told me about finding crumpled newspapers (and horsehair!) inside the walls of older Alaska homes; insulation wasn’t available, so people used what they had. Smoothed out, the pages were still absolutely legible after decades behind plaster.
As I noted in a post called “Online news won’t save the planet,” a lack of newspapers means a lack of access to what’s going on in the world. Those with smartphones or computers can get in touch with news coverage. But will they? Or will they skim a few headlines and then go back to the latest cat videos?
I hope the local newspaper hangs on. It’s where I used to work, and where I still contribute theater reviews and the occasional short feature, so I feel a connection even though I haven’t been a full-time reporter since late 2002.
It’s essential to have a local or at least regional paper to cover the stuff the nationals can’t or won’t: city or state political shenanigans, housing trends, economic issues, the reason you’ve heard so many sirens in your neighborhood lately.
Local papers hold bureaucrats and elected officials accountable when things go wrong. When the powerful break laws, or bend them to the ethical breaking point, some enterprising reporter is (or should be) there to point it out. That’s in keeping with the old newspaper mission: “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
Newspapers and “good” news
But local newspapers also pounce on the good things that happen, and on the fascinating stories that reflect the place where you live. A few recent Anchorage headlines:
“Meet the woman who started Alaska’s first peony farm”
“Firewood sales by scooter in Spenard”
“Public piano strikes a chord in Town Square”
“Native memory: How a kid from New Jersey helped save Dena’ina culture”
A national newspaper (or magazine, or TV or radio station) is highly unlikely to find stories like these – and even if they did, would they get them right? Unless the reporters live here or have lived here, they probably won’t.
People like to talk about “citizen journalists,” aka bloggers. As a blogger myself, and the creator of a blogging course,** I do know the value that all these extra points of view can bring.
But as a former reporter, I also know that a professional media organization can almost always do things bloggers can’t: Report doggedly, question repeatedly (especially the unpopular questions) and most of all, provide perspective to explain what happened, why it happened and what’s likely to happen next.
Besides, blogs don’t spring from rolls of newsprint. You can’t clean a window or wrap fish with the most recent edition of Surviving and Thriving.
Readers: How do you use newspaper?
*Those who know me might assume that this was a Diet Coke but it was, in fact, a Diet Pepsi. That’s because I’ve lately become enamored of the Pepsi Stuff program, whose prizes are pretty cool. (At least one of them literally so: a full-sized refrigerator-freezer with a Pepsi logo, which sadly is now sold out.)
The down side is that while the premiums aren’t spendy (they start at 15 points), points are harder to come by: The specially marked products are worth only one to nine points apiece. Still, I’ve already sent away for three items for birthday and Christmas gifts. If you’re interested in joining the PepsiStuff program, I hope you’ll use my referral link. For each person I refer, I get two points. Those T-shirts aren’t going to buy themselves.
**Haven’t had a coupon code in quite some time, so what the heck: Until Aug. 31, use the discount code NEWSPAPER to save 25 percent on Write A Blog People Will Read.
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