Farewell to newspapers

It has been a long time since that short period early in my working life when I delivered newspapers. I started by being a substitute carrier for another boy in our town and before long was able to obtain a route of my own. My route started with about 60 customers and I built it to just short of 150 customers by going door to door and soliciting customers from homes that didn’t receive the daily paper. I was pretty good at sales and developed a good discipline about making my deliveries early and gained a reputation for having the papers to my customers before they woke in the morning. Most days, I was able to complete my route before 6:30 am, a half hour earlier than the paper’s promise of delivery by 7 am.

But the world has changed. The daily newspaper is about half of the volume it was in those days and despite adding features such as color printing and a wide variety of advertising inserts, it has become less interesting. The comics no longer fill up a page and they’ve stunk in size. More importantly, we don’t get our news from the newspaper any more. That change was already underway back in the days when I was delivering newspapers. America was switching to television as its primary news source. The big three networks were investing millions of dollars ini producing engaging evening news shows that commanded larges segments of the population as viewers.

Back then we didn’t see the Internet coming. We couldn’t imagine a 24/7 news cycle or cable news channels that have abandoned all sense of journalistic impartiality and seek to promote a specific political point of view. Like I said, the world has changed.

We now live on a motor carrier route. Our newspaper is delivered by a carrier driving a car, who reaches out to place the paper in a box without getting out of the car. I used to ride my bike up each driveway or sidewalk to deliver the paper to the front porch or step. Since I lived in a windy location, most of my papers were placed between the screen door and the front door of the house.

A few weeks ago our paper route was taken over by a new carrier. The first thing I noticed was that the Sunday paper didn’t arrive before I left for work. That wasn’t much of a problem as I leave fairly early, often before 7 am, and I could read the Sunday comics, such as they were, over lunch. Then I noticed that more and more days occurred when the paper wasn’t there when I left for work. The last few days the paper hasn’t been delivered before my wife leaves for work, which is a bit later than I.

I returned home from work after evening meetings last night too tired to deal with the newspaper. I glanced at yesterday’s comics this morning. The rest of the information in the newspaper I had already obtained from various sources, including the newspaper’s web site.

I have realized that we have come close to the end of a journey. We are planning to travel a bit more than usual this summer and when we leave on our trip we will cancel delivery of the newspaper. We won’t resume our subscription when we return. Sometime during the summer, I’ll remove the paper box and post from the yard and we’ll join the majority of our neighbors. After 40 years of subscribing to a daily newspaper, I’m sure it will feel a little strange at first, but I don’t expect it to be much of an adjustment. With delivery becoming later, too many copies of the newspaper go directly from the paper box to the recycling bin. the price of the newspaper has increased dramatically over the years as well.

And, to add injury to insult, our local paper has notified us that they will be charging extra for the issues that have mountains of advertising in them, such as the Thanksgiving edition. They give less news and charge more for us to have the added work of recycling all of those advertisements. It might make me angry if I didn’t know that the newspaper is a failing business. They aren’t getting rich. They’re cutting staff and going through the dying throes of a failed enterprise. Even the classified ads are primarily filled with ads promoting the newspaper. And the newspaper’s ads are not cleverly designed or eye catching. If I were teaching journalism, I could use those ads as examples of advertisements that don’t work. There is an ad promoting advertising on the comics page that hasn’t changed in months. It definitely hasn’t encouraged anyone to purchase that ad space.

In Los Angeles Dr. Patrick Soon-Shlong, a doctor who became a billionaire by building a biotech empire with a cancer drug, spent $500 million to acquire the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune newspapers. It is a lot of money for struggling newspapers with falling revenues and aging infrastructure. The Los Angeles Times still has a name and a reputation. It has been an award-winning journalistic enterprise and it had been around for nearly a century by the time I started buying newspapers.

We’ll see if the wealth of a billionaire can salvage a shrinking newspaper in a world where newspapers are becoming increasingly irrelevant. For new the Times joins other papers, like the Washington Post, that are no longer publicly held and are the enterprises of a single owner.

When our nation was founded, a free press was seen as essential to the survival of a democracy. These days, the word “press” and the image of print on paper as the mode of communication seem outdated. We prefer to speak of media and increasingly are turning to the Internet as our preferred means of keeping ourselves informed. Appropriately regulating and providing for a free and open Internet is quite different from defending the freedom of print media.

The times have changed. Now we need to adapt our thinking to keep up.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!