Friday, October 23, 2009

The Future of Newspapers

*Originally printed in the Joplin Globe on the Op-Ed page

The Future of Newspapers

The recent announcement that the Christian Science Monitor, along with other newspapers and magazines, will cease publication deeply saddens me. It reinforced the opinion of a recent speaker at a writing conference in Whitefish, Montana who said newspapers would be a thing of the past in another fifteen years. I acknowledge that computers, the internet, web sites, and blogs have altered our ways of getting information and news, but my heart aches at the thought of no newspapers. Reading was only one of the ways newspapers influenced my life.

My dad was not much of a reader, but the evening paper along with one pipeful of tobacco was his evening reward at the end of a hard day doing manual labor. It was understood that the living room should be silent after supper when Dad turned on local weatherman Earl Ludlum and unfolded the newspaper. Sometimes I would peer over his shoulders to see what he was looking at, smell his Old Spice aftershave and be very still so I could stay. At the end of the paper, he would read me Beetle Bailey and Blondie. On occasional cold winter nights if I had a Big Chief tablet handy, he then might fold the paper for my small hands to hold while he drew his own renditions of Dagwood for me.

The newspaper was a source of income for me when my maternal grandpa paid me a quarter to fetch it for him. He said I was cheaper than feeding and less work than training a dog. Once I learned to read, my maternal grandpa let me have his copies of the Grit and Capper’s Weekly, newsprint I looked forward to having. Our own town newspaper was a weekly and was only about six pages. Even with the neighboring towns’ daily papers, I needed more newspapers to read.

Newspapers had a second life of course. Once read, they were saved to cover the kitchen table for finger painting on rainy days. They lined drawers and stuffed snow boot toes during the off season. Grandma used a newspaper spread over her ample lap when she stemmed garden green beans to catch the strings and stems. Then she used those same pages to line her garden patch to keep the weeds down. Everyone had a trash barrel in those days too. Well used newspapers helped start many barrels burning.
Some copies of newspapers were too precious to toss, at least for a while. Grandma kept old newspapers with pictures of her sons coming home from various wars. When the assassination of JFK was announced in bold black two inch letters, the family kept all the issues as if to prove to future generations this unbelievable atrocity did occur—after all it was in the newspapers.

When I got married and moved to St. Louis, Sunday mornings were newspaper heaven. No alarm clock or chase to work, but easy risings for a good newspaper. The St. Louis Post Dispatch was thrown on the apartment porch while it was still dark outside. I could hear it hit with a heavy thud announcing time was approaching to put the tea kettle on. My husband and I divided the paper and sipped steaming mugs of tea. He took the business and hard news while I delved into the arts and travel sections.

One hasn’t lived until they have been in the newspaper business. I never delivered papers as a kid, but I was the mother of a newspaper boy. This mom thought it would be good work training for her son to have a job, learn a strong work ethic, feel the satisfaction of responsibility met. He did but our whole family learned the lessons too. Days were planned around the stack of papers to be rolled, banded or bagged, delivered, monthly money collected, oh and missed papers taken back out late at night. It was fun to get the news first each day, to read the headlines before the neighborhood, but the cost was newsprint on every door frame in the house for a couple of years.

Recently, I got into a box of my grandmother’s things searching for a certain bowl. I found it wrapped up in newspaper that she had used long before her death. I found more than just the bowl as I unwrapped and smoothed out the pages of the newspaper. There were names of people I recognized, some now gone like she was, a picture of a grade school soon to be demolished, prices in groceries ads that are now history. It was hard not to shed a tear at what that newspaper held for me besides the pink Fiesta Ware bowl.

A pink bowl can not be wrapped in a blog; a computer can’t be folded up and used to smack an irritating fly. A website is nice, but it does not have the earthy smell of newsprint nor leave the tell tale sign of printer’s ink on your fingers. Will newspapers go the way of the butter churn, typewriter, a party line telephone with three rings on the wall? Maybe, but I hope it takes a long while before we all loose the comforting sound of a rustling newspaper early in the morning or the joy of time spent with a evening paper at the end of a well spent day.


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