Breaking up with newsprint
Recently I ended one of the longest-standing relationships of my life — the one I have with daily print newspapers.
I grew up in a household that got the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal every day. I must have started reading the Times in high school — I don’t remember, exactly — because when I went off to college, I made sure to sign up for a daily subscription. (The only association the Journal had for me then was with the serious business of my father, who worked on Wall Street.) When Rupert Murdoch bought the Journal in 2007, the paper underwent a transformation that made it feel newsier — a more necessary daily read. I subscribed.
For years, I was a religious follower of both publications, every day. When I would stay at my parents’ house overnight, I would have trouble sharing the papers in the morning — I was used to reading the sections in the order I liked. My mother gave me a new title, the “Newspaper Nazi.”
Then my lifestyle changed: I took a job that no longer necessitates a daily subway commute and, at the same time, requires several lunch hour meetings per week. At my previous job, I’d read the business and metro sections on the way to work, a few sections either on the subway to a lunch or at a quiet one by myself, and the remaining ones on the way home. (I’d save the front sections for last — mainly for the op-eds.) More recently, with little time to sit down with a print paper during the day, I started to catch up on my black-and-white intake — which was really the previous day’s news — at night, in bed, while my boyfriend would read the next day’s editions on his iPad.
But a lot of nights, I was too tired to focus on the news — much of which I’d already seen via links on Twitter during the day. Sometimes I take my iPad into bed, too, and read a bit of the papers there — the next day’s. In the meantime, the print papers, which I’d been carrying around all day, were piling up near the front door each night, making me feel guilty and stressed. They felt like a monument to all that I hadn’t accomplished that day.
So I did the unthinkable: I canceled my weekday print subscriptions. I got a Saturday-Sunday subscription to the Times and a Saturday subscription to the Journal (I still have digital access to both). I wish I could have chosen which days I wanted. For the Times, it would be Thursday (Styles), Saturday, and Sunday; the Journal, Friday (Arena) and Saturday.
As it was, the process of changing my subscriptions felt true to the spirit of each organization. The Times presents an easily maneuverable subscription management center online, with seven delivery options, ranging from daily to just Sunday. On the other hand, if there is a way to manage your subscription on the Journal’s website, I was unable to find it — an experience in keeping with that of navigating the rest of its site. (Thankfully, it wasn’t me; there is indeed no way to change your Journal subscription online.) Once I spoke to someone — on a Monday, as the call center was closed on Sunday — I found out that my only options were daily or Saturday delivery. (A customer service representative ended up contacting me.)
I’m a believer of the Netflix theory that the more pleasant you make it for a subscriber to leave — and I wasn’t even canceling! — the more likely it is that she’ll return.
I hope there will be a time in the future when I can return to reading print on a daily basis. In the meantime, the morning after the Boston Marathon bombing was the first day that the New York Times wasn’t outside my door. There was only the last print edition left of my Wall Street Journal subscription. Without seeing how the Times treated the news — banner headline? all caps? italics? — and not having time to sit down with the Journal, I wasn’t sure how to make sense of it all. For all the information that online resources provide, the one thing even the best news publications have yet to replicate digitally is that ability to provide readers with a coherent takeaway — a relative feeling of closure. Maybe it’s not the format. Maybe it’s me, the Newspaper Nazi, unwilling to relinquish her title.