I crave news.
In my morning ritual, checking The Slatest comes before putting pants on. Before sundown I’ll read every manner of publication, from the Washington Post to the New York Post to the Huffington Post, for a daily death toll from Syria or the latest Mitt Romney gaffe. Even without a smartphone, I feel desperately disconnected from Planet Earth if an hour passes and I haven’t been updated on goings on in the world.
But a few days ago I broke from my sacred routine and did something I hadn’t done in months: I read a newspaper. As in a physical bundle of thin grey paper, repeatedly folded and smothered in runny black ink.
I was eating in Allison Dining Hall at the tail end of lunch service, and I was bored. No one was at my table, and as I poked at my burnt turkey Panini, I tried to think of ways to pass the time before my next class. Then I remembered that free copies of the New York Times and USA Today were available on a rack at the front of the food line. It’s information, but it’s an actual tangible object, I thought as I picked up a copy of the Times and weighed its girth. If I took away one copy, there would be less news for other people. I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept.
I smoothed my hand over the front page article, a report about the political relationship between Hamas and the abusive government of Syria. If Syria’s government were being overthrown right now, I thought, it wouldn’t be printed until tomorrow morning. Incredible.
When I plopped the thing down on my table, I studied it like a cat circling roadkill. I read through the front page article, which cut off abruptly—in the middle of a sentence, in fact—and told me I had to flip to another page to keep reading. I ruffled and flopped the pages, spreading out my arms to try and keep them from falling out of order. When I finally got to the page, it took me three tries to fold it along the right crease so it wouldn’t be spread out in front of me like a blueprint. By the time I located the jump, I forgot what the beginning of sentence had said, so I had to go back and repeat the process.
I stared at the jet black ink and considered the fact that in all these dozens of pages, I’d find no articles emblazoned with hyperlinks. In other words, I reasoned, everything in front of me was dead information. It was information that would lead me nowhere and end my enlightenment right where it began.
I had barely read 300 words, and already I was ready to tear this thing to shreds and return it to the greasy gray underworld from whence it came. I shoved the pile of papers away, thought dreamily of my laptop and wondered how anyone out there still manages to put up with the flitty monstrosity that is the broadsheet print newspaper.
As long as I’ve had a long enough wingspan to hold newspapers, I’ve hated them. I hate their crinkly corners, I hate their smudged ink, and I hate the lifeless information that anonymous explicators prescribe on their covers. Their names may be printed, but if I can’t click on unfamiliar bylines to see what else they’ve written and for whom, they might as well be John Doe.
I hate the way I have to take at face value all the facts written in print, because I have no immediate way of testing their accuracy against other publications or resources. I hate that the only way readers can publish their responses to articles is in a single written letter, hand-picked by the publication itself, printed a week later. But most of all, I hate the fact that despite all this, the majority of the established journalism world is still lamenting the decline of print and decrying the invasion of web reporting and blogs.
I feel like I’ve heard every argument and rallying cry for the sanctity of newspapers, and I can honestly say that I understand none of them. Newspaper purists constantly whine about lack of accuracy on the Internet, saying it’s become too easy for amateurs to release false information. This may be true, but as soon as they click “publish,” 500 more amateurs will always be ready to point out their mistake. On the Internet, no one gets away with anything.
Of course, a traditionalist’s argument for printed news will always end on the same hard line: “I just like the feeling of a solid newspaper in my hand every morning. It feels right.” Whenever I hear this complaint I think back to the feeling I get when I hold a newspaper in my hand, and a vivid image comes to mind. It’s an old curmudgeon in the year 1912, and he’s terrified at the rising popularity of telephones. “I just like the feeling of a solid telegraph beneath my fingers,” he says. “It feels right.”
Printed newspapers may be a dying industry, but I won’t be truly happy until they’re dead and buried in the dusty annals of history where they belong. And if I ever want to know more about them, I’ll look them up in online archives and smile.