Friday, June 28, 2013
The Newspaper Habit
Writing to our soldier son the other day, I found myself quoting from an op-ed column in The Washington Post, and that got me to thinking about the newspaper habit and how it changes over the years.
For example, I used to be a big San Francisco Chronicle reader. At the local paper where I worked, the newsroom had a subscription, and I could always look at it during the lunch hour, though it was not unusual to have to wait for someone else to finish with it. The Chronicle in those days was the object of a lot of scorn, but it was a much better paper than most people gave it credit for being. The writing and headlines were consistently sharp, and the columnists — Herb Caen, Charles McCabe, Art Hoppe — were unbeatable.
In 1992 I started a public relations business after leaving the paper, and part of my job was to get clients into the San Jose Mercury, if possible, so I gradually phased out the Chronicle and became a daily Mercury reader. A couple of years ago, I stopped. Their coverage of our area now consists of reprinted stories from the Santa Cruz Sentinel, which I already get, so the Mercury became redundant.
An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse
Not long after starting the PR business, I got an intriguing offer in the mail to subscribe to The Washington Post National Weekly Edition for some ridiculously low amount of money. It was deductible, so how could I say no, and I became a devoted reader.
The Weekly, as it was called, was a tabloid, about 36-44 pages a week, with next to no advertising. It carried a mix of stories, ranging from in-depth features, news analyses, book reviews, op-ed columns and the like. I’d take it with me when I went out to lunch or for a cup of coffee, and sometimes I’d read it in the office when I was sitting on my hands until a client called back. That was when people still did business by telephone.
Sometimes I’d go out to lunch and realize I’d left the paper in the office. A search of my car would usually turn up an older edition that I hadn’t finished, and I could read that — in fact, found I often got as much out of the older issue as I would have from the current one.
The Value of Waiting for News
That taught me a valuable lesson. I came to realize that for most news, specifically the news that didn’t immediately and directly impact me, I was better off waiting to read about it. By the time The Weekly arrived, an event it reported might be almost two weeks old, but the analysis piece it carried put the matter in focus, and the by then I had a better sense of perspective about how important it truly was. The reality is that for most news, it’s not that critical to know about it right away, and it’s better to wait until you can get a more complete picture and be truly informed.
At the end of 2009 The Weekly published its last edition, a victim of the Internet and the toll it’s taken on newspapers. Six months later, I bought an iPad, and a short time afterward received a subscription to try The New York Times for iPad for a month for a dollar. I did, and I was hooked. That’s now taken the place of The Weekly as my national/international newspaper. Let’s see how long a run this one has.