The pleasure of reading printed newspapers

Published 7:55 am Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I have an addiction that must be satisfied daily. Because of that, every morning at 3 a.m., a woman drives down our street and slows down by our house, tossing a package against the garage door before zooming away. Monday through Friday, a man walks up to our house and deposits another package in a silver box, left out by the door just for that purpose.

What am I addicted to? Newspapers.

“How quaint,” I’m sure some will say (those would be the anonymous “online” readers). He’s going to write about those old, greasy paper thingies my grandparents used to read. I can almost hear them chortle as they accuse me of preferring books over Kindles and a fondness for music on CDs or — gasp — vinyl!

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But before we take the next steps in our ongoing revolution in the delivery of media, are those of us who still enjoy reading on paper aware of what we are going to lose as more newsprint turns into digital ink on a screen? There are many things I love about a physical “newspaper” each day that online and digital versions cannot satisfy.

The feel of the paper in my hands each morning is a big part of it. There’s something very pleasurable, very tactile in the way I fold the paper, turn the pages or go back to something I missed.

Sitting with a cup of hot tea and a “laptop” just doesn’t create the same feeling as tea with newspaper.

And with paper, there’s no “download” time as each page or article or image appears before me. I don’t have to push a button or use a scroll wheel, and I can scan an entire section, moving from article to article without having to hit “continue” at the bottom of each page.

The ability to “share” the paper in the morning is the other big part of it, sipping tea or juice, crunching toast or slurping cereal together as we sit and read our morning newspaper — also together — pointing out amusing comic strips or interesting stories about the events of the day before. You can’t share an online newspaper; only one at a time can read or play Sudoku puzzles.

However much more interactive digital media might be, newspapers are still a thousand times more sharable and portable than any laptop, PC or “e-reader” we would use to download digital news.

I also like how, in a newspaper, information is condensed, sorted and even interpreted (from multiple perspectives). I don’t see the point of hitting every “news” link I come across on the Internet. I don’t see much value in the “live news feed” that constantly tells me everything that’s going on. It’s way more data than my brain can hold. Newspapers (along with radio, another “quaint” source of news) give me distance and time to digest the information, and it’s easier for me to recognize both patterns and propaganda.

Part of this is tradition built on habit. I cannot remember a time when there wasn’t a newspaper regularly delivered either to our house or a post office box. As a child, I remember seeing the newspaper on the kitchen table every morning and then in the living room by afternoon, thoroughly digested by both my parents by the end of the day.

As a youth, I read the paper every day — even the sports section, to which I no longer give much attention. I looked forward to Sundays, for the expanded “culture” news about music, movies and TV shows, but most ardently for the color comics. As an adult, I’ve always made subscribing to the local newspaper — whether a daily or a weekly — a high priority.

Now, these essays for the Tribune are typed on a laptop and are submitted via e-mail. So there clearly is plenty gained by the move to paperless media. And, yes, I know that newspapers require real paper, which means something living often gets turned into paper — trees and shrubs, for example. But newsprint is also made from recycled paper, old rags, or even industrial hemp (but that’s a topic for a future column).

Just because some things are better over a Web, doesn’t mean everything is.

Albert Lea resident David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea. His column appears every other Tuesday.