Saturday, March 14, 2009

Stacks of newspapers

Yeah, we're a little behind in our reading.

Much has been written about a perceived death knell of daily newspapers. The Rocky Mountain News recently shut down. The Christian Science Monitor will cease its daily edition in favor of web publishing. The Detroit Free Press will now deliver to homes only three days per week. The San Francisco Chronicle's corporate bosses recently threatened closure if it didn't receive union givebacks.

On a personal level, I've certainly gotten fewer assignments from newspapers recently. This was the first year in a decade where I wasn't asked to cover any basketball playoff games, for example. (I did, however, get a freelance assignment for the Pacifica Tribune a couple weeks ago.) God knows that another full-time staff position with a newspaper is probably out of the question in these economic times, despite a journalism degree and good experience.

But there is at least a glimmer of hope for one local paper. The San Mateo County Times (professional ethics require that I disclose here that I get -- or at least USED to get -- a lot of freelance work from said publication) has picked up subscribers. Or at least one.

A young man came to the door recently selling the paper "to earn money for a trip." Apparently he had a good sales pitch, as Claire bought an annual subscription -- and for twenty bucks for a year, why not? The only problem with getting a daily newspaper subscription? It comes every day.

For the same reason that newspapers have seen their subscription rates plummet, many of those papers lay unopened, unfolded on our living room floor (above). Both Claire and I get the majority of our news online, so rarely is there a need to open a physical newspaper anymore. In fact, I am a daily reader of the San Mateo County Times' own website. I feel bad for admitting this waste of dead trees, but we rarely open our subscription unless there's a story I've written (two-three times in the month we've gotten the paper), to have something to read on my morning commute or to pilfer coupons.

I find our situation ironic, because I believe the only survivors of the foreseen-by-some newspaper collapse may be smaller local dailies. Local businesses will always seek places to advertise, and no doubt truly local, suburban news will need an outlet when it is ignored by the big-city media (whatever form it may survive in). I want to know why my library's hours are being reduced, where that fire truck was going last night and whether educational programs at my local school are being cut just as much as I want to know about the war in Afghanistan. So, probably, would most residents.

Economically, I don't think I would inclined to pay $20 for an annual subscription to a local paper online. But give me the actual, physical product that I might read now and then for the same price? Sure. Conversely, I might be willing to pay $20 for an annual subscription to, the SF Chronicle's online hub, but wouldn't buy a paper subscription. If you asked me why, it'd be hard to put it into words.

I guess it would come down to whether I'd feel guiltier having stacks of the San Francisco Chronicle or the San Mateo Times being recycled.

1 comment:

Rob Roy said...

I think you would have to whittle your reasons for ever opening a physical newspaper down to coupons, as I find it difficult to believe you don't use your iphone for everything on your commute.

Oh yeah, and don't read in the bathroom. It's really bad for your posterior.