The axe falls: Life without that daily dose of ink on paper

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Are these relics of an era that's ending? credit: Editor B, creative commons

Are these relics of an era that's ending? credit: Editor B, creative commons

It took 10 hours for The Times-Picayune to run a story about today’s big local news, which the New York Times broke last night: New Orleans will soon be out of a daily newspaper.

The awards-winning Times-Picayune, one of the most-read papers in any metropolitan market, announced that it will reduce its delivery and sales to three days a week: Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. The T-P aims to become “digitally focused.”

For most of the past year, the T-P has run a captivating and extended account of its 175-year history covering the major stories in New Orleans. Now, instead of a journalistic monument, this fine series will read more like an extended obituary.

For many in this city, this sudden turn of events leads to an important question: where will New Orleanians get their daily football news? I’m kidding (mostly). No, the truly sad part about the dismantling of the daily T-P is the human cost. Talented journalists will be out of a job, and many others will have to endure a difficult transition, in which emotions are already running high.

And, of course, the added disadvantage is that many “offline” New Orleanians will get less news. It’s hard to imagine that the T-P’s new three-issues-per-week system will endure for long.

And the football news quip is not completely gratuitous, either. While I’m sure that many football enthusiasts will simply migrate over to the T-P’s website, I have to wonder if there aren’t a lot of folks my age (40) and older who are accustomed to the physical, daily paper as a morning companion. For example, what about those wonderful Monday editions after a Saints win? The big headline and photo, and the absurd amount of coverage? Like many, I enjoy the fool out of those issues. I read the articles and analysis in staggered succession and underline key statistics and observations. Then, oftentimes, I’ll read it all over again, just to prolong the Saints ecstasy. It’s become an indispensable part of my fall breakfast ritual, and I can’t help but worry that my digestion will suffer on Mondays this autumn.

I suppose I’m just feeling sentimental because I’ve always enjoyed a daily paper. As a boy, I took an interest in the sports section, reading the recaps of last night’s baseball games, and pouring over the numbers my heroes put up in the boxscores. Crunching those statistics would often shape my morning mood. (Atlanta Braves center-fielder Dale Murphy went two for five last night against the Padres, with a double, and increased his batting average to .285 – today’s gonna be a good day, that’s for sure!) Now, of course, I devour all the sections of the newspaper, digesting the news with my breakfast.  I’ve even inflicted part of this ancient habit upon my young daughters. Each morning they ruffle through the sections to see what the weather frog is up to.

I’ve had this basic morning ritual for the past 30 years or so, and it’s a strong one. How strong? If I had to choose between coffee and the morning paper, I’d opt for the paper, even though the same news content is on the web and there’s no substitute for good strong coffee.

Why? I’m not sure. But eight years ago, blogger Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo wrote a post that still rings true for me:

Serendipity is part of the magic of the newspaper. Not the newspaper as a concept, or simply the work of hundreds of news professionals at the big dailies, but the physical artifact itself: the bundle of paper with numerous articles on various topics scrunched up together in the columns of a broadsheet.

The key being that even if you’re focused on articles on topics A & B, you’re bound to have your attention focused on articles on topics C & D, articles that actually turn out to interest you a great deal but which you wouldn’t have thought to look for on your own.

The web has made that factor of serendipity all the more apparent to me because I’ve seen how focused — and thus, in key respects I think, impoverished — the web has allowed my newspaper reading to become.

I realize it’s ironic for a columnist at a news website to bemoan the loss of a daily newspaper, and worry about the inevitable all-digital future. And as far as “serendipity” goes, I have to admit that the Internet provides all kinds of potential, far-flung connections above and beyond what a  paper could ever provide. But in key ways, perhaps relating to Marshall’s notion of “serendipity,” I’m afraid something’s about to slip away, that can’t be replaced.

Or maybe this feeling is just cover for my reluctance to break a lingering habit, and “get with the times.” It’s not like I didn’t think this day was coming.

I’ll miss my old newspaper habit, and all the physical and mental rituals involved: processing news and cereal at the same time; gearing up for the day ahead.  New Orleans has plenty of news, and I’m sure the new “digitally focused” T-P will continue to cover it well. But I’ll miss the daily hard copies delivered to my door, and the key part the physical paper played in my morning routines. And beyond that, I’m sure I’ll be saddened the next Tuesday evening I visit a  convenience store and see a T-P rack with three-day-old news headlines.

Let’s be frank: the Nola.com website does not yet offer quite the same morning experience that the paper does. Rather, it’s almost an assault on the senses. The negative intensity in the T-P comments sections is nauseating, while the site’s new yellow revamp is… blinding. (Granted, the new Lens website isn’t flawless, but at least you don’t need sunglasses to tolerate the darn thing.)

Gambit’s Kevin Allman is covering this T-P story and its fallout like no one else. I’d recommend reading his work for all the inside details. Interestingly, the Gambit weekly’s tagline used to be “Because New Orleans needs an alternative.” Given the T-P’s sudden and unfortunate re-structuring, the question now seems to be: alternative to what, exactly?

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