Life Without Newspapers

As I told the Chronicle yesterday when they called to win me back with a half-price offer, “you know, I’m actually starting to enjoy life without a newspaper.”

She actually laughed. “Well, what about the fact that we delivered the news right to your front door; don’t you want that?”

No, even when deliveries were reliable, less and less of the paper was getting read, but all of it had to go out to the dumpster each week.

“Well, what about the coupons? Don’t you use the shoppers?”

Good God no! Two-thirds of the Sunday edition is ads and shoppers. It’s out of control! That’s what makes the frequent trips to the dumpster so loathsome!

I thanked her for her time and assured her that if I ever changed my mind I could always call them.

When I wrote my first article on this topic on January 22, I mentioned web bookmarks for news and comics. I am using this system – I’d actually developed the bookmarks a long time ago – and it’s working far better than I’d hoped.

What I always liked about the huge newsprint page was that the headlines jumped out at you. If you wanted to read more, the article was right there under the headline. Oh sure, you still always have to turn to page C-9 right in the middle of a critical sentence, but 40 years of conditioning minimize the irritation factor.

The web news page contains more links and much less actual text – you follow the link. What I didn’t sufficiently appreciate was exactly how little it puts you out to click a link and (if you like what you see) read the article found there. I open in a new window or tab so I can just dismiss it when done.

For my web news I still use BBC the most, but also MSNBC, Arizona Central, and only rarely, SFGate. With the index-style hyperlinks on a typical news page, I now believe I can read more news in less time than the old way of flipping and folding newsprint pages back and forth.

I have to admit I really hated carrying out weekly shopping bags of newsprint and circulars that weighed twice as much as my household garbage. It ticked me off to return from a week’s vacation to find half a dozen yellowed newspapers advertising no one had been home, when we’d taken out a vacation stop. Managing the newspaper account wasn’t just a household item, it was also a security concern and constant headache. And, it seemed that, as advertising encroached on larger and larger areas of the paper, actual news was reduced in coverage and quality.

Every Sunday I was reminded that the only part of the paper that had high-quality full-color printing, highly legible text and wrinkle-free glossy paper was the advertising circular. And I’ll bet you a nickel it wasn’t even printed at a Chronicle facility.

I like being without a newspaper.

Towards the end, it seemed that the free “shopper” handouts, the kind stacked in apartment vestibules and office building lobbies, are catching up with the traditional newspaper. The shoppers have plenty of ads, of course, but the articles are more local, more interesting, and, in my opinion, better written. They use a better quality newsprint and recharge their ink supply on time. The text is attractive, high-contrast, and easy to read.

I think there will be a place for better quality newspapers with high editorial standards for decades to come. Those that don’t make it will blame the internet, TV, unions, the high cost of labor, and editorial resistance to guaranteeing the stockholder a competitive return on investment.

High cost of labor? The dozen or so carriers we’ve had over the last few years mostly drove jalopies whose doors wouldn’t even close – how overpaid could they have been?

Those newspapers that don’t make it will more likely fail for the same reason as most other businesses do that aren’t in a hi-tech squeeze: lousy service, and a poor quality product.

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