The end of newspapers

"Man Reading a Newspaper," oil on board by William Chill

It seems to be a common theme these days – newspapers are dying. You hear it everywhere: newspapers are going away. I view this sentiment with an unfortunate sadness as I happen to like newspapers. The common wisdom seems to hold that newspapers are irrelevant because you can get all your news online these days faster, and for free.

You have got to be kidding me.

When I was growing up, it was called it The Paper. The morning ritual of putting on your slippers, sometime braving the elements, to retrieve The Paper was comforting in its predictability. Sometimes you’d see your neighbors out doing the same. I loved it when The Paper was brought inside during the winter months, when the pages were cold and the print was fresh. You could even detect the faint smell of ink.

I remember, while on leave in the Army, riding the Tube in London and the morning passengers had their heads buried in their Papers. I learned how The Paper could be a great way to protect one's personal space in a crowd and remain anonymous. It served as a perfect barrier between you and the stranger sitting across from you.

When I was taking a life painting class, our model came dressed in a business suit so we could paint him in a scene of our choosing. Unable to decide what to have him do, I said, “Find a newspaper.”

The Paper is more than news, it is a prop. Running late in the morning – tuck it under your arm and head out the door. Whip it out when you get a break and start reading. The Paper is an object, it has physicality. The bigger the city, the thicker the paper. It is a measure of status. Our paper while growing up, The Youngstown Vindicator, was only a baby. I loved it when we travelled to large city (like Cleveland) and marveled at the size of their Paper.

There’s nothing like having the pages spread out in front of you while have your morning coffee. The intoxicating confluence of a newspaper’s texture, intriguing font of the gothic headlines, and the grittiness of its photos, makes the news it delivers hyper-real. Internet news? Come on.

As I walk into the office in the morning and observe my co-workers covertly and not-so-covertly zipping through the internet news on their computers, I think that if there were only newspapers people wouldn’t be so unproductive. I mean, who would be brash enough to read a paper at their desk? Talk about obvious.

On the special occasions when I went along with my old man on Saturday mornings to meet his buddies for breakfast at the local Perkins, he made especially sure he had enough change for a Paper from the vending machine outside. Around the table sat a group of men who all had the same Paper in various forms of folded configuration. Possession of a Paper seemed to be a unique display of both manliness and worldliness.

On my high school field trip to Washington, D.C., we piled off the bus one morning for breakfast and, out of instinct, I headed to the vending machine to get a Paper and tucked it under my arm. I don’t think I even read it. I did it to try and impress the girls, but they didn’t get it. I wrote them off as clueless.

Okay, so perhaps I am living in the past, maybe this infatuation with newspapers is a personal longing for a sentimental past and the paper IS in fact dead. I made a pact with myself that I will get with the times and stop reading The Paper.

Pondering this, I headed to the local Starbucks for a consolation premium coffee. Over in the corner was a young bohemian reading The New York Times. No problem, just an out-of-touch intellectual. Clueless. (I’ve been guilty myself of splurging on the Times, especially the Sunday edition, where a decade ago I discovered Philip Roth through an article in the cerebral New York Times Review of Books insert).

Next, I headed over to the barber shop and as I approached I could see a couple of the barbers sitting in their chairs reading The Paper. That’s OK, I guess. Newspapers are perfectly acceptable in this bastion of old school. Almost to be expected here.

The Plain Dealer called and asked if I wanted to take advantage of a limited time offer. You better believe it. Sign me up, seven days a week.

Newspapers going away? Might as well call it the end of the civilized world.

William Chill is an artist and lives in Bay Village. 

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Volume 2, Issue 3, Posted 10:50 PM, 02.04.2010