It took me a while to make the connection. After several instances of being irritated because I couldn’t find a rubber band anywhere, I realized that it was the most significant effect of our cancelling home delivery of the Seattle Times last fall. We would always carefully remove them from the rolled-up paper and deposit them in the junk drawer in our kitchen. This particular act of frugality began in the 70s when we took the Seattle P-I, and continued when we reluctantly switched to the Times with the demise of the P-I. I don’t believe I’ve ever bought rubber bands, and now I’m confronted starkly with the necessity.
I’ve been reading the Times and P-I online exclusively for several years, a circumstance which was probably abetted by my periodic business travels, and seldom handled the dead-tree version even when I was home.
We continued with the Times even after it forced the P-I out of their JOA agreement primarily because my MIL, who was living with us at the time, spent a lot of her morning reading it. Also, Mrs. Perils preferred the paper version. And I admit that reading a newspaper online is not the same experience. It has its advantages: compact, available anywhere, searchable, RSS feeds, free; the major disadvantage is that its visual geography seems more limited. The “paper” paper has things in the same places every day, available at a glance rather than a click-and-wait. Two examples that come immediately to mind are sports statistics and comics. Even though the paper comics have shrunk as my eyes need them bigger, you could still rake your eyes over the page and snag on your favorites fairly quickly; online, you have to click a drop-down menu, select, wait, expand, read, rinse, repeat for every individual comic. I just don’t bother any more. And, I have no idea what the baseball standings are, or who is still left in the NBA playoffs.
There are moments when I’m reading online when I feel a little guilty about hastening the unemployment of the earnest ink-stained wretches still toiling away within print journalism’s august perimeter. I had a pang as well one day when some carriers were going door-to-door pretty much pleading with me to re-subscribe. I’m not sure what economic model could successfully replace home delivery. I’ve paid for online subscriptions before (WSJ), and would be open to paying a single fee to read newspapers online, sort of how AOL experimented with corralling content under a single portal in the 90s. I’d be disappointed in, and would probably resist, having to subscribe to every paper I lit on in pursuit of news.
I also perceive a danger in the dismantling of the journalistic institution. While we are flooded with a euphoric torrent of information, we as its wary consumer now need to do our own fact-checking, without the professional training to get it right. On the other hand, we aren’t, as in prior times, being spoon-fed information by what is essentially an embedded member of the local oligarchy reluctant to step on the toes of its advertisers. And then I’ll read one of the Times’ tortured anti-tax, anti-union editorials and I’ll think, nah, I can buy my own rubber bands.