Especially since the pandemic began, sitting down to read the daily newspaper in print form has been the highlight of my days. The reliable Chicago Tribune carrier leaves the paper outside the door early every morning. After breakfast, I make a pot of tea and settle into my reading chair for what’s become a long, leisurely ritual in these months of isolation.
The ritual may die out with my generation. Two in five people over age 65 read printed newspapers, according to the Pew Research Center, but not even one younger person in five does. Younger people prefer to get their news on their smartphones and laptops, where it’s available wherever they are and updated more than once a day.
Newspaper reading would have been a habit of mine even if I hadn’t started my career as a reporter. My parents subscribed to both the Chicago Tribune and the hometown Joliet Herald-News, so I grew up thinking that a household typically read a daily newspaper or two.
I’ve been a Tribune subscriber since I returned to the Chicago area 35 years ago. I resented the constantly increasing cost until I saw firsthand how the newspaper industry was declining as online news proliferated. My brother, the sports editor at the Herald-News for 35 years, lost his full-time staff. I did a five-year stint at the Herald-News in the late 1980s. The editor for whom I worked was let go when the features department was eliminated. Two of my friends stuck it out longer than I but, as the paper’s ownership changed repeatedly, left for more secure communication jobs.
More than 2,000 US newspapers disappeared in the last 15 years, according to the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Others switched to online only. Those still with print editions created websites.
I could read a replica of the printed Chicago Tribune online, but I enjoy seeing a full-size broadsheet. I prefer to scroll with my eyes rather than my fingers. I like feeling newsprint in my hands and hearing the crinkle of pages being folded.
The digital edition contains the full text, yet I don’t read it thoroughly when away from home. Maybe I associate online reading with quick takes and clicking on only what interests me, for I skip many stories and read few others to the end.
Wishing for a resurgence of print is futile, and I’ll even admit that digital has some benefits, including saving trees. Format is a personal preference; what matters are that the public has access to trustworthy local news and that trained journalists can find jobs. Today responsible news organizations are up against online sources with dubious commitment to ethical reporting and news standards.
Digital journalism has also proven not a sure bet; many news sites have made less money from digital advertising than expected, according to the Poynter Institute. Since I’m not an expert on the news industry, I can’t predict what formats are likely to be viable. I’m just happy that a meaty newspaper is delivered to me daily.
With so much free time during the pandemic, I’ve been reading sections of the printed edition that I used to skip, finding that the letters to the editor are often well written and thoughtful, the business pages aren’t just about the stock market, and the sports section is more than a rehash of yesterday’s games. Paying less than $1 a day, I wonder how I ever thought the newspaper was getting expensive. However much the price increases, I now think of a subscription as a contribution to print journalism, which hopefully will last out my lifetime.
REMEMBERING A FRIEND AND COLLEAGUE
My friend and former colleague Vickie, who died last Tuesday at only 54, was a private person, so she would have wanted this tribute to be kept short.
Vickie was an exceptional graphic designer whose interests ranged well beyond the visual. She sent me tips and newsletters about both human and cat nutrition and suggested off-the-beaten-path places that she and her husband, Doug, had enjoyed. My go-to person with gardening questions, Vickie identified plants from my sketchy descriptions and gave me perennials from her yard. She passed on what she learned about the feline digestive problems our cats shared. Belonging to both our publications department’s book group and a Great Books group, she schooled me in the Great Books philosophy.
Working with Vickie meant never worrying about anything slipping through the cracks. Her meticulousness, computer expertise, and design savvy awed her coworkers. Her humor amused us. The courage with which she handled illness, and her acceptance at the end, offer an inspiring model.
Vickie was up for joining our book group’s last Zoom meeting on audio. Chatting and joking, she gave us the gift of sounding like her calm self when we all knew we were saying goodbye.