I grew up in an era where the daily newspaper was a solid source of information second only to the neighborhood gossip and Paul Harvey on radio. Newspapers came out with morning and afternoon editions and sometimes special editions. There were also weeklies and penny-savers. Newspapers were run by families of note who influenced opinion and politics.
I grew up in Chicago reading the Chicago Tribune then owned by the McCormack family. The New York Times was owned by Ochs-Sulzberger family. The Boston Globe was run by the Taylor family, and we all know about Meryl Streep owning the Washington Post – sorry, I mean – Katharine Graham. You could tell a person’s politics by which paper they read, as well as which baseball team they supported. And you could get all the baseball statistics you needed within the sports section.
The essentials of life were covered within these pages including births, deaths, marriages, and sales at local stores. They were read carefully. Information contained within was discussed among family, friends, and in classrooms all over the country. Opinions expressed were discussed at the dining room table, in bars, and at church socials.
There were competing papers within the big cities. Chicago had the Tribune, the Daily News, and the Sun Times. New York had the Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Daily News and the Post. Boston had the Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Herald. Washington D.C. had the Post, the Star, and the Daily News.
The publishing industry was a major employer of all kinds of workers ranging from typesetters, paper boys (yes, boys!), distributors, delivery truck drivers, reporters, editors, and printers. Apparently there was a lot of news to print!
And the writing was magnificent! When I think of the great writers who either started or flourished in the land of the three-inch column – Hemingway, Studs Terkel, Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, Margaret Mitchell, Charles Dickens to name just a few. The gift these writers gave was to create word pictures of human experiences happening in real time. Whereas a picture might be worth a 1,000 words, the thousands of words these writers wrote continue to inspire long after we have scrolled through the picture books.
As a kid, first thing I would read in the Chicago Daily News was Mike Royko’s column. When I lived in San Francisco, it was Herb Caen. Op-Ed pages in those days could sway voters and endorsements were sought by politicians from all parties. People would vote based on the recommendations of the editors of the daily paper.
There was a wonderful visceral relationship with the paper, ranging from the smooth, almost weightless touch of the paper, to the smell of the newsprint, and the sound of the rustling pages as they were turned. Once the information had been consumed, the paper itself continued to provide utility, either as wrapping paper, filler, liners for bird cages, or strips for papier maché projects. I remember newspapers holding French fries, steaming walnuts, and freshly fried donuts, as well as protecting carnations, roses, and bouquets of wildflowers.
I still read newspapers, but now I do it online. It isn’t quite the same as actually holding a newspaper. I miss doing the crossword puzzle. I miss the cartoons. The content remains important and useful, but the layout and lack of tactile engagement is absent for me. I no longer have to lick my fingers to turn the pages and wash my hands after reading to get rid of the news print.
I also don’t read the paper as carefully. My attention span is shorter. I am distracted by the visuals, the audio, and all the other chachka that obscures the words on the screen. I click instead of lick, and turn the page using a mouse. It is not the same. Although I can post links to various social media platforms, it’s not as satisfying as talking about it with friends. And it certainly isn’t the same as cutting out articles or clipping cartoons!
Still, I read newspapers every day. Now it is the New York Times and the Washington Post. My neighbor, who still gets her paper delivered, shares tidbits from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Even though there is now overt partisanship in the papers (as opposed to the covert partisanship that used to be there), I continue trely on newspapers to bring me information that is dependable and useful in my daily life. And, I have to confess, just like my grandfather used to do, I read the obituaries first to make sure I’m not there.
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Five Pillars Tip: I grew up discussing current events in school and at home. This was not the talking heads shouting opinions at one another that has become sport on cable news. This was about knowing what was going on around the neighborhood and in the world so that we could participate as informed citizens. This still is a good model and a key component to staying engaged over the lifespan. Consider creating, joining, or encouraging others to engage in a current events group, using newspapers as source material. This is a great way to stay current, build community, and keep your mind active.