Newspapers have been important in my life so it’s been a heavy and significant decision to stop buying them.
As a child and teenager, I lived with parents for whom reading the daily paper was as much a part of the morning routine as black coffee, short showers, and yelling down the hallway ‘If you’re not in the car in five minutes I’m leaving without you.’ I grew up with news on the radio, news on the television, talk of the daily news all around me. But the key source of information was the daily paper. I knew the names of the journalists my parents respected; I knew which papers, here and overseas, were considered the most credible.
My parents were political creatures, so I followed suit. When I moved into my first sharehouse we had the paper delivered. When I lived overseas I found places where I could buy my hometown paper, so that I could read that and the local broadsheet. For a short while, I harboured an ambition to be a serious journalist – a war correspondent or political reporter.
But no more. Newspapers are failing me and I’m walking away. I’m tired of seeing syndicated articles in the paper that I’ve read on the web up to two weeks prior. I find this unbelievably insulting – almost everyone in the First World has access to a computer at home, work or school, so why do they pretend to be doing us a service by reprinting something widely accessible (for free) weeks after it was published? This is not being part of the global cultural conversation – it’s lazy and cheap.
I’m tired of out-of-date news – I know this is a fault of the medium, not the journalists or publishers, but I turn on the radio or my computer and hear about things minutes after they’ve happened, not the next day or so.
I’m tired of lifestyle articles, and I say this as someone who used to feed them into the machine. I don’t want to write that fodder for newspapers any more because I think people don’t want to read that any more – not in newspapers. Newspapers used to be about news and sport. Sure, I treasured the colour cartoon section and know my father used the classifieds to buy cars, lawnmowers, secondhand you-name-it. And I know that newspapers used to be the place we all turned to when looking for a job or a place to live. But mostly, newspapers offered news, services, information.
Now, my city broadsheet, The Age, offers up articles about fashion, celebrities, wannabe celebrities, restaurants, recipes, dieting, pets, shopping, house and garden advice, endless first-person columns that really should be in blogs, endless lists for the short-of-attention, interviews with people who have something to promote, photos of people’s weddings, and gossip. I respect that gossip columns have always been in papers of note, by the way, but I agree with the recently retired Liz Smith that nowadays such columns are filled with the children of famous people and the copy not vetted by anybody.
Last year The Age launched a new magazine lift-out called Sport and Style. The launch issue had a sports star in a suit on the cover. No, really! Two things that have never claimed to have anything to do with one another – David Beckam aside – are now the topic of a Monday glossy magazine. Mondays because no-one buys the paper on that day, and sport because they must feel they can use it to squeeze another dollar out of their advertisers.
Now, I should say that I love a lot of this stuff – I just don’t want it in my newspaper. If I want to read about gardening (and I do read about gardening), I buy a magazine. If I want to read about fashion I go to Style.com. If I want to buy a puppy I google ‘puppies’ and read half a dozen of the gazillion articles on offer. I buy dozens of magazines a month, and piles of books. But I don’t want this stuff in my newspaper!
So I read my news online. I listen to the radio. I have my favourite sources in both mediums and, in the case of my web news, they do tend to be what used to be the best broadsheets. I don’t want the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Independent and Australian to cease to exist. I love that I know their sections, that I’ve followed certain journalists and columnists for decades. I love that I can pick and choose what to read. I love that they offer me news and opinion and analysis. And it has surprised me how little I miss the smell of the paper, the newsprint on my fingertips, the feel of the object… They haven’t lost me as a reader, it’s just that we’ve both changed.
There seems to be an enormous amount of talk about how newspapers will change, how they’re rising to the challenges of the internet, how citizen journalists cannot replace paid professionals, how ‘the model’ has to change, but every month I hear of another venerated paper folding. Which, despite all I’ve said, does make me feel sad.
My partner tells me that the Guardian has changed everything by introducing a version of syndicated articles with ads embedded. It will mean an end to the idea of an online newspaper replicating the print version, being instead a loosely connected, freefloating mass of articles from which the reader can pick and choose. I don’t claim to understand it, but evidently we’ll all know about it soon and it will be revolutionary. I almost felt myself clutch at the past for a moment when he told me this, then I let go. It’s time for a change, and for some fresh consideration of the point of newspaper and the role of those who disseminate information in this age.
Unless I find myself alone and bored in a cafe, I won’t ever read a printed newspaper again.