Saturday, October 24, 2009

I know I'm addicted (to print)

I went cold turkey for about two days.
Then a telemarketer (working in a very busy boiler room) called and I re-upped.

You see, I had set aside the bills when they came, so the local papers had every right to cut me off from daily delivery.

One newspaper kept coming, though, weeks after my subscription had lapsed; the other was less forgiving about my nonpayment. But then one day neither of them was at their usual early-morning spots on the driveway and the front porch.

So I thought: Do I really need them?

It was sacrilege, I know, coming as it did from a longtime newspaper reporter and editor. But when you've been laid off in the Great Recession and you're among thousands of journalists in the same predicament, every expense needs scrutiny.

I had subscribed to one of the newspapers for years, even before I started working there. I had needed to keep an eye on what its business reporters were covering when I worked at a competitor.

I began getting the other paper earlier this decade. At the time, a then-assistant managing editor liked to harass me when that paper had stories my section didn't. I figured if I saw at home what I'd been beat on, I could be proactive about a second-day treatment when I got to work. (But, as I half-jokingly told the then-AME, if the crosstown rival's circulation numbers ever beat us by one, he was to blame because of the subscription I felt compelled to take.)

But now it was time to discontinue that paper, I decided. What made that determination easier was the bill I received: It showed convenient 3-, 6- and 12-month payment plans that brought home just how much my subscription was costing.

The other bill was for 11 bucks -- so little in the scheme of things, it suggested, that anything but renewal was silly.

But $11 covered only four weeks, and by the time the telemarketer got done with me, I was in for more than 60 (past-due owed plus 13 weeks).

To be honest, I wasn't sure how I'd cope without home delivery. Growing up, newspapers were always in my house and I'd read them. Would I now miss that familiar clunk! against the front door when one paper arrived, or the hide-and-seek dance that came with trying to find where on the driveway (or lawn) the other paper had landed?

What about the coupons and Sunday fliers? Both carry more weight these days as I pinch pennies. (Before the telemarketer got hold of me, I decided I could still get the Sunday pullouts at the supermarket or go online for the retailers' promotions.)

But while I was mentally gearing up for this brave new world, I happened upon an essay by Mark Glaser, executive editor of MediaShift, a Public Broadcasting Service blog that keeps an eye on the new media (blogs, Twitter, podcasts) and how they're changing society.

In it, he talks of "the allure, the pleasures of print," even for someone who has sworn off ink-on-paper in favor of the iPhone and Kindle: readability, convenience, attractiveness. Print, he concluded, "still has its charms."

It's true. One comment posted to Glaser's essay, by a University of Missouri School of Journalism prof, talks about research into newspapers' "comfort factor," which he says continues to engage subscribers: "the feel and smell of the paper -- even the ink on their hands."

It's an addiction I know I'd have trouble beating.

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