Michael Erard | Essays

Notes on Getting the Daily Newspaper

Photo by the author

We've moved into a new house and now have a table big enough for two people to read a newspaper at the same time. So we should use it.

Plus a certain very large newspaper has just instituted a digital subscription. For the first time in nearly a decade, I'm getting a physical newspaper. Not just on Sundays. Every day.

Having the newspaper object makes me appreciate it as an assemblage of writing in which, on any given day, there are good sentences and not so good sentences and sentences there to do a certain job. Often it's the look of the line that catches my eye because it promises a certain stylistic approach, so I read the story. This doesn’t happen online.

Right off the bat, I'm appreciating the paper as an artifact of human craft. Who, in the age of web pages, still needs to carve out enough column inches on a second page to contain a story's spillover from the first? Someone, apparently. I appreciate their good work every morning over coffee.

One problem is, there are two readers and one newspaper, and sharing sections of the daily newspaper doesn’t work as well. Get two paper versions?

A photo of a traffic jam in China. My son, standing on a chair by the table, is pointing at the front of a vehicle. "Wi-pah," he says, "wi-pah." Good, I think. It's working.

It occurs to me that reading a newspaper doesn't seem like a Gen-X nostalgia. That's exactly what it is: a desire to introduce to my son the things of my own youth that were important to me and that may be severely reduced in the future. I'm already crafting the memories he'll have of me.

One of the best things my dad ever did for me was get me a job at the local newspaper the summer before 7th grade. It was fun to tag along with the police reporter and write a column, but what hooked me was the ink smell of the place, the typewriter balls spinning in their couches, the track that your pages rode to the copyeditor. The overwhelming materiality of it all.

On May 2, I wake up to the news that Osama Bin Laden has been killed by U.S. forces, and before I even get out of bed I've checked several papers and blogs as well as Facebook and Twitter on my phone. So that by the time I go downstairs, the headlines in the morning paper are obsolete. It's the most unread newspaper of all time. Straight to recycling.

We've now made a ritual, my son and I, of going onto the porch to get the paper. Coming down the stairs, I ask him, what do we have to do now? Paper! he shouts. At the front door, I set him down. Paper! We go out on the porch, he bends, hands it to me. Then he spends the next ten minutes running back and forth down the porch. It's still cool now, so I get cold but it doesn't seem to bother him. I like that he expects this now in the morning as our ritual. And that we have a ritual. We've been trying to develop ways to mark the passage of time of various units. And he can say "paper."

A pile of newspapers is a good measure of the passage of days. Someone needs newspaper for garden mulch. Proudly, I actually have a way to supply it.

Will he remember that his mother and I sat after breakfast reading sections of the paper while he played, and will he call that ignoring him?

Crumpled piles of newspapers makes it look like someone lives here.

Sitting on the floor, I'm reading the paper spread out in front of me. He comes over and sits on it. We used to have a cat that did this. The dog did it too. Both were annoying. I wonder what Roland Barthes would say about a baby on the text. Especially when he rolls off and I see gray on his leg. His skin or an ink smudge?

It turns out that there are sections of the paper that are informative and make me feel plugged in when I read them that I don't get when I read the paper online. The letters to the editor cue me to stories in days past that I missed but ought to know about. The obituaries tell me about people whose lives made my world yet whose passings, in most cases, disturbed mine not a whit. I never read the obituaries online. All this has been observed multiple times over the last decade, so I'm not saying anything new, but that's what occurs to me this morning.

Because it's warmer now, we spend more time on the front porch in the morning, sitting on the unrailed edge, dangling our feet over it. Sometimes my wife joins us while the kettle heats.

Reading, my son has decided, is something you undertake lying on your belly on the carpet, the text (and sometimes the newspaper) spread in front of you. He invites me to come down. "Read," he says. Or sometimes he does it by himself, positioning the book in front of himself. "Read," he says. Where did he learn to cross his legs at the ankles like that? Sometimes, when I get down with him, we open a section of the paper and read. Last night we pointed to motorcycles, a car in an ad, horses in a racing story. Then he said, "O." O? He pointed. O. As i registered that, he said, "E. E," pointing.

Coming downstairs in the morning, we see the blue-bagged paper framed in the door. "PAPER!" he shouts. Paper, paper, paper.

On most mornings now, we go sit on the edge of the porch for a while. Maybe I pull the paper out of the plastic and scan the headlines, but mostly we watch the cars go by, the kids go to school, the dogs on walks, and him increasingly with more to label what he sees. Truck. Jeep. Car. Flower. What color is the flower? Pink. Doggie. Wet. Leaf. Tree. He's reading the news as the world gives it to him. Then breakfast.

Some mornings we're both reading the paper at the table, absorbed, while he's standing at the windowsill, running a truck over it, absorbed. Everyone's happy.

Then there are days when the paper runs a photo of the face of the dead man framed in the flaps of the body bag, or the disfigured bicycle rider from Cuba. Before I can worry about what he'll see, he's moved on; his attention lasted the section's front page, no more.

I realize that online, they keep stories around after the first day of publication. In that, the paper version is a relief, democratically toned; all the pages head for fish-wrapping at the same moment.

Warm enough to eat breakfast on the porch. Strawberries and bagels and coffee.

Advertising. Lots of ads for watches for the fathers.

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Media

Comments [1]

Thanks, Michael. Yes, there is something still yet good about the art (& production) of reading a newspaper. The crispness in the sound of the turning pages, reading hours (or day) old news in this instant gratification news/information world. The newspaper print on fingertips, versus the cold keyboard. And finding it on one's doorstep signals that hey, someone does live here!

I read (rather scan) 4-5 newspapers online on a daily basis. There is so much world news though, it borderlines on information overload.

The internet is irreplacable, but so is the word in print on paper. The Kindle is great, but let me keep my books as well. Nothing compares to hand turning the pages of a newspaper, a book, to read those words of permanancy. There is room in the world for both.

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