Missing experiences surrounding print newspapers

obligatory "reading newspaper in the dead...
Can you do that with a laptop? (Photo credit: Catie & Linds)

We had some new furniture delivered the other day. As will happen with deliveries, some chinks and scratches appeared on the varnished surface as an inevitable part of the delivery process. The store sent a very gentlemanly elderly man to paint over the chinks. He had a can of spray with him. He cleaned the surface with sandpaper, readied the spout over the scratched area and asked me a very normal question.

“Can you give me some newspapers?”

I was taken aback but was fairly confident I could. I looked all over however but couldn’t produce anything larger than some oversized junk mail to spread on the floor.

Along came the realization that newspapers had already disappeared from my daily existence. The phasing out had sort of sneaked up on me so silently that I wasn’t even aware of such an important change!

There was a whole culture associated with reading papers, a social sign system if you will, that’s just gone or is soon scheduled to go!

Ignatz being marched off by Officer Pupp for t...
Ignatz being marched off by Officer Pupp for trying to throw a brick at Krazy Kat. Behind the newspaper, Krazy is reading and describing aloud the very same cartoon in which they are all appearing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So what else is gone from my life with the print newspaper? Here’s a few things that are on their way out:

Some fairly regular interchanges between various family members: “Where is the Sunday section of the paper”? “I put it back.” ” No you didn’t.” “I certainly did.” “No you didn’t!” “Oh, here it is! But who mixed up all the pages”! “Not me!” “Nothing in this house is ever in order. I’m always the one arranging things. It must be you.” “No you.” ” No, you!” And so on.

Discovery of traces of personalities recorded in newspapers: A discreet circle in pencil around a job ad on the paper on the table. You realize someone close to you has lost his job. A particularly frustrating aunt had come to visit when you were out. A rectangular piece of the paper is missing where a coupon had been. A clever wordsmith was waiting for a haircut right in your chair where you’re waiting now. He’d filled in the crosswords section.

Those movie plot devices: Someone chances upon a carelessly left old newspaper that reveals something. A cutout from an old paper in an old attic tells all. In Bengali movies a picture on a thoga (paper envelope usually made of newspapers that carries food items) glanced at casually reveals that the villain is still alive under an assumed name. The detective watches his subject from behind the morning paper. Those plot devices will have to go soon.

Those neighbour-watching moments: Newspapers piling up outside a neighbours’ door? That family must be on vacation! How come they are able to afford so many more vacations than us? The wife isn’t even working  anymore! It’s noon and the Roys still haven’t woken up to bring their paper in! Now they party late!

Conversations with newspaper boys and delivery men:  In India, the newspaper delivery men come to collect their money every month and when they do, they recommend new papers and magazines or new festival related publications. They must be on their way out though I hope not soon! I’ve never lived in a house in the US where I’ve had newspapers delivered by boys on bikes but I’ve seen too many films to not miss them. They must be going too.

Memories in parks and trains: I’ve associated newspapers with parks and trains for a long time. If I didn’t want to have grass stains on my clothes, I’d spread a newspaper. If the train was dirty on a long journey, I’d spread a newspaper to sit on. I’d spread out food on a sheet of paper to eat while travelling. In India, people would be eating peanuts or spicy mixtures in parks made out of paper cones made of newspapers sold by street vendors. The sal leaf cones of yesteryear were replaced by newspaper cones in my parents’ generation. Now paper will be replaced in its turn.

Experiences to remember:  Chancing upon a yellowed cutout  carefully saved by your grandmother in an old book will never happen again. Simply struggling to hold onto the newspaper against the wind and running after stray pages blowing around! That’s almost already a thing of the past. The long, drawn out, nasal voice of the old-newspaper collector walking through the streets of Calcutta with a huge, tall sack on his head full of newspapers shouting khaaataaaaa-boi-kaagezzzz (exercise booksssss-booksss-paperzzzzzz) will no longer be heard in a day soon to come. Does he know that?

As I finished this post though, I thought of reading and writing rituals in ages past. I thought of Elizabeth Bennet walking around the room with Darcy’s sister in Pride and Prejudice while Darcy sat in a corner to write his letters. A moment around which attraction, rivalry, jealousy and writing all converged. I thought of his ink bottle and his quill and the preparations he (or his servants) must have needed to complete beforehand to write. Get paper, get ink pellets, dissolve them, light the candle and who knows what else. I thought of the fountain pen, the descendant of the quill and its passing.

Perhaps eventually all things must pass and that is how they are meant to live. In our memories.

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Dear Readers: Some of your comments on last night’s post (Reading print newspapers) made me think of this post. Thank you!

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81 thoughts on “Missing experiences surrounding print newspapers”

  1. Sad but true situation. As an upstart, freelance music and entertainment writer, I was lucky to get my first article “in print”, what used to be the Holy Grail for a writer. They are also going digital soon. Well now, at least, the detective can peer from behind his iPad AND take photos of his prey.

    Love your blog, thanks for following.

    Like

  2. I love this post! Can’t tell you how tragic it is to be losing newspapers. For one thing, they were great for lining the guinea pigs’ cages. For another … I’m a former print journalist. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to watch the presses running, and to save space on those two last pages for breaking news. I love the convenience of online news, but I really do miss lazy Sunday afternoons with the Times crossword puzzle and the travel and book sections. Nice to relax with, and to share with parents and siblings. I miss those days. 😦

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  3. Absolutely loved this post! I live in India too, but at my place, it’s a daily ritual to pay a visit to our letterbox and pick up the morning newspapers. We subscribe to 3 newspapers, each preferred by a particular member of the family. My parents are ‘technologically challenged’ and I prefer the printed version to web. I guess I just like to ‘feel’ it in my hand! Same goes for printed magazines. I am a collector in that sense 😀

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  4. Although I do also use online media, I will never give up the newspaper! I read 5 a week as well as many magazines amongst that. If I want to find more information or read a different perspective, I go online but I simply could never go through my week without physically picking up my favourite titles.

    It could be because I work in a small publishing house that I find it imperative that people still pick up a newspaper even though we also have online versions.

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  5. I stopped reading the national newspaper a while ago. It was bulky and large and a pain to read and they have a website and the bbc news is good too. I do read the local newspaper, (their website is awful) and it is also what I use to line the hamster cages.

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  6. Love this post! I was speaking to an associate of mind most recently and the difference between using a kindle versus having a tangible book. And at that moment I became a book advocate! Like your picture illuminates for me there always be conveniences that will be lost or unobtainable in using technology versus a hard copy. It’s sad to see the old go…which is why I won’t endorse a Kindle or any technology like it. Not only can you not take a Kindle in the water…the fact is eventually its battery will die out and then your stuck. You’d never have that problem with a book. It dies when you die. 🙂

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  7. The part with your family interchanges, too funny and can relate. I don’t buy newspapers too often anymore. But as a former freelance journalist, I find myself running across an old stack of my yellow-tinged articles here and there that I never got around to putting in a portfolio. I’m still a paper pusher because if the computer crashes I want something in hand to read. Still prefer paper books, too. Maybe it’s just the feel of something tangible, in the hands. Cool post!

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  8. LOVED your post! When we relocated south, we started a newspaper subscription so we could learn all about our new area. Six months into the daily read, the paper announced it was going digital and cut back delivery to 3 days a week. We let the subscription expire. I just can’t get the hang of reading a newspaper online, even with the smaller computers like my Google Nexus. I loved the smell of the newspaper, even wet. Ah, well. Progress ain’t always a winner.

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  9. “I was taken aback but was fairly confident I could. I looked all over however but couldn’t produce anything larger than some oversized junk mail to spread on the floor.”
    Interestingly, we talk about sheets of newspaper. An alternative protective layer would be an old bed-sheet. In England we call them dust-sheets.

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  10. I worked in the industry for 22 years. It was my life. Ink in my veins so-to-speak. I came from a newspaper family. My father, my grandfather and on-and-on. I miss the days of ink stained fingers 🙂

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  11. I don’t know if you used to do this. Wrapping up my precious novels and other not-so-precious paperbacks in old newspapers…Guess, I won’t be doing that anymore…especially, since, I don’t even buy paper books now!

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  12. I miss doing the cryptic crossword in the Saturday Telegraph (UK national). It got to the point where I realised that was the only reason I was buying the paper, so I stopped, telling myself that there are plenty of apps I could use to satisfy my cryptic crossword requirements. But it just isn’t the same as completing it in pencil in a real paper, and waiting a week to see the answers!

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  13. Great post! It certainly provided me a few chuckles, thinking back to the days of Sunday papers, of my Dad sitting in his Lazy-Boy, his legs crossed, a steaming mug o’ joe at his side, and no words passing his lips. After all, he WAS reading the paper.

    Very evocative post, and your writing is superb. Thank you for allowing me to read your prose, and that in itself will infuse me with the desire to compose a few pages of my manuscript today.

    Take care, and I look forward to more of your exquisite work.

    Paul

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  14. We still subscribe; sadly I feel to rushed to indulge. I am the daughter of a newspaperman, I will always subscribe. I just wish I could slow down….

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  15. When my husband and I first moved into our house (his grandmother’s old place) we found a newspaper in the basement from 1982 announcing Liz’s divorce from John Warner. I thought it was pretty cool. That’s what I’ll miss…finding those issues announcing big events in history from the actual DAY they happened (not saying Liz Taylor’s divorce is an epic historical event, but hopefully you get the picture). 🙂

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  16. Thank you for coming to visit my blog, Dear Ms. Migraine and liking my post.

    I hate the idea that newspapers are on their way out. I love the smell of them and the sounds as I turn the pages. It just isn’t the same on the computer, nor am I as motivated to read it as I was before when it was right there handy in front of me.

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  17. I could go on and on about this! Thanks for pointing out some of the changes that have occurred with the decline of the newspaper. I still get a daily newspaper–old habit. I worked in the newspaper industry for many years and still have ties to people in the business. Newspapers are shooting themselves in the foot because business decisions are not enticing people to read newspapers. My daily newspaper is so much thinner and lacking the serious, in-depth news of years past. I never thought I would be one to question my subscription but I find myself asking, “Why do I even pay for this?” The quality is so low. I keep buying it because I teach mass media so I figure I can write off the subscription as a business expense. But if I didn’t have that excuse, I might have canceled a while ago.

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  18. Unfortunately the UK newspapers are so full of rubbish and scandal that I don’t want any part of that in my life.
    I do remember my dad giving me money to go and get the Evening Standard every once in a while and letting me keep the change (2p) ha ha. Good times

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    1. Yes, me too. Another reason for sadness (excerpt from my response to another comment below): ” . . .the differences in coverage between local and national newspapers (little community aspects vs. lack of breaking stories that can hold one’s interest) made me sad. It also made me think of another dimension of this same issue I see in Indian newspapers where the vernacular (usually more local) newspapers suffer in the same way in comparison with national, English language papers. The national papers are also the ones that have more online readership, especially from global expatriates or urban Indian readers while the vernaculars are read mostly in paper form. I wonder how much the vernacular languages and local points of views suffer because of this.”

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  19. This is obviously a generational experience. Newspapers are still part of my daily experience. I simply can’t have a morning without a cup of coffee and a paper.

    The NYT is the best one for mulling over, but even my local paper is a treat. I like all the little aspects that keep you in touch with your community. Granted, it’s mostly bad news: obituaries, bankruptcies, divorces, foreclosures, as well as the bigger items, crime, casualties and corruption. A lot of it is information you run across casually while reading a feature or a breaking story that can’t hold your interest anymore.

    I especially like the business section of the New York Times. Their writers are particularly masterful at portraying financial news and issues. Sure, you can get that on your computer or iPad, but I like the tactile and auditory experience of a crisp newsprint page becoming more sodden and crumpled as you read the stories and flipped back and forth from the cover to the inside “jump.” There’s a kind of satisfaction with soft sound and feel when folding up a well-read section.

    Life will go on, certainly. And the generation younger than me will adopt its own methods of reading and mark their days with their own habits. But as long as they make newspapers, I will subscribe and read them.

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    1. Thanks for the wonderful comment. Your observation on the differences in coverage between local and national newspapers (little community aspects vs. lack of breaking stories that can hold one’s interest) made me sad. It also made me think of another dimension of this same issue I see in Indian newspapers where the vernacular (usually more local) newspapers suffer in the same way in comparison with national, English language papers. The national papers are also the ones that have more online readership, especially from global expatriates or urban Indian readers while the vernaculars are read mostly in paper form. I wonder how much the vernacular languages and local points of views suffer because of this.

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  20. This was really touching to read. I was realizing the other day how many fewer trees there must be getting chopped down to make newspapers and magazines.
    And yet, there are probably more being chopped down than ever; but at least it’s one teeny silver lining. I’m also not fully aware of the impact of Kindles and Nooks and whatnot on the environment..perhaps it is just as bad as printed words..I’m not sure. Thanks for keeping the ball of this rolling in my head though, always good to remember that things are temporary and can be appreciated!

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  21. I agree! With all the technology nowadays, it’s so easy to forget the touch of a crisp newspaper page and the ink rubbing all over your fingers. Great post!

    P.S. thanks for liking a post on my blog. Much appreciated!

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  22. I bid newspapers goodbye three years ago, when I left India. What I miss the most, apart from the things you’ve already mentioned is the pocket money I used to make from the paper walla when he picked it up from our place.

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  23. With my laptop and iPad I mostly read digitally now and I love digital magazines. But the New York Times is just unbeatable the old-fashioned way. Right there on my doorstep, spread over the table while drinking coffee, the full array of the news to pick from at a glance, the in-depth stories…I just can’t give it up. And yes, it comes in handy in more ways than one…

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  24. I know that the funnies are available online (comics.com, visit!), but it’s just not the same. Also, hiding in a trenchcoat from behind… what, an iPad? C’mon now. They’re gonna know you’re spying on them and split. Newspapers serve a purpose, darnit. (Said. the non-subscriber… ahem.)

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  25. You know, this reminds me… The other day I was up early to take my husband to the airport. In front of me. This guy in a truck blasting classic rock through his open window pealed very precariously into this driveway. I was wondering if he was just getting in from some super late party when his hand flew out of the window, tossing a newspaper onto the concrete, then pealed back out and sped for his next destination. I guess the time of newspaper delivery boys on bikes with bags are long gone, too…

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