November 3, 2013

The New York Times: A Love Story.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Sunday I opened my wallet wide and bought my very own New York Times, the earth moved.

Recently I swallowed my shock at spending over six dollars for a newspaper, and bought a Sunday New York Times. It was a revelation, a joy and so completely absorbing that I periodically had to remind myself to stop reading and do something useful.

Comparisons are odious and all, but since I started reading the Times, I am feeling the pain and guilt of finding a new love and leaving the old one with great relief and not much of a parting glance.

Our local paper has lost all of its charm. It was purchased by some national publishing conglomerate which clearly labors under the impression that, because we live in Flyover, even the goings-on under our own Capital dome do not require an experienced and intelligent writing staff. Wire service reports are good enough for us, sometimes about events that occur within 50 miles.

Aside from the odd story about local high school sports heroes or a one-inch report on a local crime, the vast majority of our paper is compiled from wire stories, and many of the photographs are either file photos or pictures of folks in some other state getting ready to storm Wal-Mart or protest taxes.

Sometimes, a story about, say, preparations for Hanukkah will be written by a local reporter, and feature photographs of Jewish families in Teaneck or Austin spinning their dreidls. Nice people, I have no doubt, but part of the joy of a local paper is finding a friend or neighbor captured in its pages.

Gone, too, are the witty and insightful local columnists, most reviews of local concerts and theater, and anything in the “Living” section about anyone “living” within a 300-mile radius of this town. Writers, photographers and editors have lost their jobs and the few that remain are spread thin.

For a long time I kept reading, sticking with an unsatisfying relationship from a strong sense of duty, but not much love. When I realized that I was reading everything of interest to me in about 10 minutes, I had a Come-to-Jesus with myself.

There was no national news in our paper that didn’t come from wire reports, so I was getting my national news online. That made the entire “News” section a loss aside from the Op-Ed page, where I might find nothing but a column by Cal Thomas. I read the obituaries, recycled the Sports and TV sections, and scanned Dear Amy and Miss Manners. Usually, I had not finished my first cup of coffee before I hit the wire service stories at the end of the “D” section about making adorable Christmas crafts out of leftover candy wrappers, or the revelation that some people gain weight during the first year of college.

Although I had sampled the Times, I had never considered making it The Paper of record at our house. The Sunday I opened my wallet wide and bought my very own New York Times, the earth moved.

I read all of the news, I read editorials written with great care, I read about concerts, organ transplants, working at Wal-Mart, the rise and fall of “Reader’s Digest,” Patricia Highsmith, a 90-something abstract artist making it big and a collection of short pieces by various “real” writers about telling lies at the holidays.

I thought about military strategy, architecture, medical ethics, grammar and Great Britain between the Wars. I literally, literally laughed and cried. I saved a recipe for Manchurian Cauliflower and an article for my dad, and made little notes about books to read and movies to see. I did the crossword.

Like harvesting scraps of meat off of a chicken carcass and using the bones for soup, I picked and dug until I had extracted every bit of substance. For less than the cost of a movie, or a paperback book, I had been entertained, provoked and kept busy for hours and hours. It was real love.

I understand that, like our local embarrassment, the Times is facing serious problems of its own these days. I hope it helps, a little, that my dad gave me a Sundays-only subscription as a gift. (And I know it’s made of dead trees, but there is no Sunday-only option for Kindle, and we are mad-fierce recyclers. And secretly, and un-greenly, I adore a physical paper in my hands. So sue me).

When it arrived in its blue plastic sleeve, I fell in love all over again.

Never mind that according to some critics, it “isn’t what it used to be.” I am still in the first heady part of the love affair. I read it in sections (except “Sports” because I don’t care about sports no matter how good the writing is). I divvy it up so that it will last through the week, reasoning that the first section and the “Week in Review” have to be read first so that I have the news under my belt while it’s still news.

After that Sunday dose of current events, I organize the remainder of the paper to save the best for last. First “Business,” then “Travel,” “Arts & Leisure,” and “Sunday Styles,” the “Book Review” and finally the magazine

Or I just gorge and read all of it on Sunday.

I am a little afraid that I may lose this treasure, that it will go the way of other print media and die slowly and painfully like our local paper, or from a sudden vicious death-blow to the bottom line. I could probably find out more about the prognosis, but honestly, I’m afraid to look. I don’t want to read it all on my computer or my Kindle; this love is not all about soul and substance, but about appearances and physical gratification. I love it that this paper is a paper, from the smudges on my fingers to the “ah” of putting my pencil to the Crossword.

I am smitten, enraptured and probably way too attached for my own good, but surely you’ve been here yourself, and you’ll understand if I cling a little, and pray that this one will last.


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Ed: Sara Crolick

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