Newspapers tend to provide a curated, edited kind of serendipity, whereas the Internet coughs up rather mindless serendipity. I’m not saying that I don’t gaze with fascination at the imbecilic stuff on the web. Yes, I, too, stared for far too long at those glow-in-the-dark puppies. Still, I like to think that serious minds want something more than mere spectacle. And on the web, not only is it harder to browse for “broad” news, it’s also far easier to get sidetracked by the freak show.
So back to those five newspaper subscriptions. Let’s say that I did cancel one or two of them. Who would my first victims be? Not the two national papers. Despite all the press to the contrary, both of our national newspapers seem to be holding up reasonably well under the circumstances, in terms of the quality of reporting and editorial content. There doesn’t appear to have been a mass exodus of reporters. And our local weekly has also fared amazingly well, seeming actually to have grown fatter as the other papers have shrunk. People in our town are willing to write gossipy columns for free, and the advertising is hyper-local and seems somewhat recession-proof.
It is the papers in the middle that seem to be suffering the most. Our city paper is a shadow of its former self, having endured numerous cutbacks, and now seems to make a real effort only on Sunday when it earns most of its money from the advertising circulars. And our small regional paper, once a force to be reckoned with, appears to be barely gasping along, down to about three reporters and two very thin sheets of paper. (This is only a slight exaggeration.) And most of the articles are lifted straight from the AP Newswire or are reprints of New York Times stories we’ve already seen. Each afternoon as this regional zombie crawls its pathetic way onto our doorstep, asking to be put out of its misery, I am overwhelmed by a wave of guilt as I contemplate, yet again, cancellation. Go ahead, I think. Just do it. But I seem to have rather powerful misgivings about adding to the woes of this suffering industry.