Worrying about the fate of newspapers June 25, 2009Posted by lizrosenberg in Uncategorized.
I can’t eat breakfast without a newspaper in my hands. Neal Postman in “Amusing Ourselves to Death” commented that any human being who can watch the daily news and continue to eat a sandwich has something deeply wrong with them. But there’s a subtle yet important difference between watching the news and reading a newspaper– which is exactly why I am praying newspapers survive. For one thing, I can control what news article I read, and I can’t control what’s on the tv.
One reason I stopped checking email at AOL is because I can’t filter out those awful headlines that come along with that overly enthusiastic man announcing You’ve got mail!” as if I should be overjoyed at the latest offer from Victoria’s secret. I can’t stop them from showing me gruesome photos, or telling me who got cut from So You Think You Can Dance when I haven’t gotten around to watching the last taped episode yet.
I still remember that bedeviled woman who drove her car into a lake, drowning her own children in the backseat of her car, hoping to keep some man who had dumped her. I was in a pizza parlor where tvs were mounted on every wall. I was there eating pizza with my then-five year old son when that little humdinger came on the news. I saw that he understood what he was watching. We both watched in horror the photos of that car in the water. “She drove her kids?” he asked me. “Into the lake?”
“Time to change the channel!” I sang out, and raced over to the nearest screen and blocked it with my body. The damage was done. My kid now knew there were mothers who will kill their own children to get what they want.
I can fold over the page of a newspaper. I can choose. I can stop when it gets unbearable. But as a life-long addict to words, I also love the rustle of the paper. Its looseness, like an animal’s ear flopping down, that silky thin-as-an-old-dollar-bill texture, the smell of the ink, the way it rubs off on my hands or whatever I am foolish enough to rest there. I like wrestling the thing and always losing and then viewing the crumpled mess after I have read it, something like the carcass of the Thanksgiving bird. I love the ridiculous thrill I get when I find a coupon for something I actually intend to buy, like a meal, or a skein of yarn. I feel like I just got away with something.
Let me also admit I always start with the local news. And the business section, even in these g-dawful times, is about as scary as the Food Network. I don’t care about sports, but I’ll read the sports page because nothing bad ever happens there, as far as I’m concerned. I like reading about weather, because it all looks so pretty there on the page, even rain, even clouds. Obituaries depress me, though, the ranks of the dead forever swelling, and those ads that people take out to talk to their dead beloveds just slay me.
I like ads for local businesses, the more amateurish the better. My six year old likes the newspaper because she enjoys the comics, even during the weekdays when it’s all black and white. She never has to see a mother drowning her kids. Just her own mother, happily mauling a neat pile of papers , with one or two rectangles where she’s clipped yet another coupon to hang fluttering on the fridge for years.
Thoreau disliked the news, said he’d never read a word in a newspaper that informed him about anything. “All news,” he wrote, “is gossip.” He also said, “What news! How much more important to know what this is which was never old!” Thoreau was right, of course– he was nearly always right, which somehow doesn’t make him any more endearing. Nonetheless I hope I do not outlive the newspaper. I spend altogether too much time in front of screens, and the only one that ever did me any good is a movie screen— that dream life writ large in the dark. A newspaper is the additive inverse of a movie screen– stark reality’s fine print published in broad day. (I always associate a newspaper with morning.) Somewhere between those two extremes, we live and gather our sense of the world. And I am a creature of my own affections and would like to see them survive.