We used to read newspapers.
Do you remember waking up on Saturday morning and tiptoeing onto the ice cold porch to grab that tightly wound paper in the plastic bag?
After tossing it on the kitchen table you’d tear it open and fill the air with the stale stench of newspaper ink, hot plastic bag, and morning dew. Next you peeled off that disgusting black rubber band and unroll it till you had a bumpy beautiful stack of crisp fresh news.
And there was something beautiful about the paper before it was opened.
Strawberry jam fingers hadn’t dog-eared corners, flyers weren’t scattered everywhere, and unapologetic backwards-folding hadn’t flipped sections inside out, making them flimsy and disorganized — pages at different heights, untethered middle sheets slipping onto the cold linoleum floor.
Yes, it was just a clear window to the world on your kitchen table.
When you flipped open the paper there were kids huddling under cars in distant countries, stern-eyebrowed generals swearing in to lead violent armies, and tornados blasting barns to bits, all photographed inches away, just yesterday, and sitting in your hands right now.
Reading an actual newspaper came without distractions.
Windows couldn’t pop up, email wasn’t a click away, and detergent jingles didn’t scream out of random corners. Everything faded into the backyard background as you got sucked into tales of police corruption, stunned by fiery photos, or captivated by a long two-page profile of the local athlete on a comeback bid.
And after reading for a long time your fingers turned black with ink smudges smearing your body like tiny tattoos. It was like the newspaper marked you. While you were leaving greasy prints in its cracks and corners, it was leaving something with you. In a way you touched each other, traded molecules, and became one.
In addition to the ink, maybe you connected with the columnists. You learned from them, were challenged by them, and read everything they wrote. You hated them some days and loved them on others. Whether it was the sharp-tongued sports writer who hated ownership but loved the game, the provocative political pundit with the bleeding heart, or the snobby movie critic with biting reviews that kept you laughing, you could always count on opinions. Crystal clear voices and friendly faces in tiny boxes felt like chatting with friends. You even missed them while they were away and were met by a line on F2 saying “Dave Perkins will be back next week.”
That was when the game was a story instead of a score, ideas weren’t reduced to bullet points from news feeds, and movie reviews weren’t dumbed down into online percentages with lines like “59% of people like Rochelle, Rochelle.”
That was when newspapers were more than information.
They were entertainment too.
Little poems caught your eye in obituaries, colorful characters pulled you into cartoons, cheeky letters to the editor got you laughing, and crossword puzzles kept you and dad guessing for hours. Flipping through the paper was a little escape out of your head. It was a twenty minute vacation into a faraway world where you were watching Olympic games, attending film festivals, and trying new banana bread recipes, all from your front porch.
Quiet authority was baked into every page of the paper, too. Behind the stories was a team of experts deciding what was news and what wasn’t. Sometimes they went in-depth, sometimes they sent reporters overseas, and sometimes they created a weekly series to crack big cases in your hometown.
Instead of clicking the most popular articles there was something about flipping past everything all stitched together and making up your own mind. It was slow, meandering, and adventurous, instead of flashing headlines hitting you like a rubber mallet to the forehead. Album reviews, stock quotes, and relationship advice were waiting every day for new listeners, investors, and lovers.
“Just think,” my dad would say as I was growing up. “A team of people spent weeks digging up stories around the world, taking pictures and writing everything down, arranging and printing it on paper, and carrying it right to our front door…for fifty cents!”
Newspapers helped decide what was important and acted like filters against information overload. Costs prevented spam, space limited excess, and daily deadlines prevented constant updates from buzzing on cell phones all day. When there was a big sale at the corner shop, they splurged for a full page ad. When a new school was proposed in town, they posted notice for a local meeting. When your neighbor’s daughter finished college, there she was in her graduation cap, flashing a big toothy grin, in fuzzy black and white.
Clipped and cut into squares and rectangles were painted patches of our city and our friends and our lives.
Yes, long, long time ago, I can still remember … how that paper used to make me smile.
Now fat weekend papers are getting thinner, foreign bureaus are getting dimmer, and there’s bad news on the door step, with flat wire stories replacing local depth.
Sure, time changes, life changes, the world spins and moves on. Maybe we’re all fitter, happier, and more productive, and maybe we’re better informed with wider choices, greater access, and more transparency.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy those papers from our past, too.
Next time you pass a newspaper stand, next time you snap a dirty rubber band, next time you crinkle thin sheets in your hand, enjoy the feeling, enjoy the moment, and just enjoy the view.
Let’s remember to enjoy reading an actual newspaper.
Let’s remember to remember it’s
Photos from: here, here, here, here, and here