Today marked my virgin voyage to the shiny, new Silver Lake Public Library. I was in search of books, in search of newspapers, in search of some sort of journalistic truth or integrity or vague understanding. It should have been a bit of an ominous sign, then, when not five minutes after I arranged myself at a table, a guy sauntered over, indiscriminately grabbed two of the largest books in the Young Adult section behind my head…and then used them to prop up his laptop.
Undeterred, I wandered over to the card catalogue – well, the digital version – and plugged in a few keywords: “journalism” and “newspaper.” The returns were less than satisfying, but still I slumped over to the few shelves dedicated to the art of words (located right next to a section that covered the intersection of homosexuality and the occult, I kid you not). After pulling a selection from the slim offerings, I decided to change course and read the LA Times.
There was one brief period in life when I subscribed to a daily newspaper, and now I can’t remember if that was during my “I’m An Adult Now!” self-empowerment phase in grad school or during the time in Charleston when I dated a guy who liked to read the Sunday paper. The only other time I read a daily paper on the regular is when I still lived at home and my mom subscribed; I was a total comics and Dear Abby junkie.
Back in the present, the front page of the Times was full of news I kind of already knew – a piece on the president’s discussion of race in light of the Trayvon Martin case, one on Detroit declaring bankruptcy, and another on the dirty dalliances of San Diego’s mayor. Herein lies the problem with printed dailies, we’re told – by the time the ink dries, the news is outdated, trumped by some other story breaking on Twitter or Huffington Post.
Ok, unless they don’t have access to the interwebs, people probably aren’t reading newspapers in the interest of getting information quickly. Then why do people still subscribe? I read further…
Section AA was called “LA Extra,” and this was more focused on state and local news – the Michael Jackson trial, the SFO crash. There was one piece that caught my eye, covering a fire near Idyllwild, which I hadn’t yet heard of, so that was sort of useful. Sections B (Business) and C (Sports) I admittedly glossed over – if there was a Learn About Business badge, I would fail miserably and if I get one of the sports-related badges (unless it’s soccer or tennis), let’s just hope Brooke doesn’t notice when I stuff it back in the hat.
Section D was the Calendar section, and I was reminded of just how useful the paper is whenever I’m home visiting my family – events listings, movie times, concert previews – I know you can gather all of this delicious information online, but there’s something to be said for your mom suggesting, “Grab the paper and let’s pick something to do today!” Plus, comics! Nostalgia and ease of access – check!
Finally, Section E – Saturday. This was by far my favorite part of the Times. It was arranged like a small local magazine of sorts, with stories about yoga, local travel, neighborhood walks, recipes, and beer gardens. I actually wanted to tear out the piece about beer gardens, but decorum (barely) prevailed.
I folded up the Times and thought about the tactile experience of reading the paper. Sure, I encountered some things I already read about online, but the experience was sort of relaxing, Sunday morning style. Coffee, donut, newspaper – it’s the ritual of it, isn’t it? The same reason why I prefer to read books over ebooks, magazines over websites – I can hold it, smell it, feel it rustle in the breeze, feel the weight of the words.
So the argument isn’t really about whether or not journalism is valid or whether or not “newspapers” should exist, but rather – should we continue to print them? Are they useful in an instant society? Are we just keeping print media around because we fetishize the effect of print on page? It’s a parallel discussion in some ways to the evolution of the music industry – most people wouldn’t argue that bands shouldn’t be paid or that artists shouldn’t continue to release albums – it’s the mode of delivery and the consumer experience that are changing and oft debated.
As for me, I like paper. I like CDs. I’m kind of a fetishizer of the stuff I grew up with as a kid. Not to say that I don’t find use for my Nook or iPod when traveling, but in my daily life too many electrical cords, flickering screens, and humming devices makes me a bit twitchy.
I have no big takeaway from all of this; these are simply observations made after one afternoon spent in an overly air-conditioned public space with a stack of smudged periodicals. I’m chatting this week with a few established journalists and we’ll see if they grant any insight into the state of modern journalism, but until then I shall continue my quest with the help of the interwebs and this slightly stale-smelling stack o’ library books – scout’s honor.
(FYI – that photo up there knocks out requirement #9: “Make a drawing or a photograph to illustrate one of the articles you have written.” Woohooo!)
Photo: Shawnté Salabert