I confess I’ve never been a good reader of news. This may not be the reason, but the homework I most hated, maybe the only homework I truly hated, were the “News Notes” my junior high social studies teacher assigned. We had to write and present to the class summaries of five articles from the paper, at least one from each category: international, national, state, and local (a mantra I can still recite without thinking).
I never hated the newspaper, though. My early newspaper memories include my father reading us the funnies when we were very little, our dog retrieving the Chicago Sun-Times from the end of the driveway, and reading Mike Royko’s columns, which my parents taught me to appreciate around the same time I was slogging through the paper searching for elusive items of state news.
Except when I was away at college or a temporary job, there has been a local daily newspaper in my home my entire life. It seemed as much of a staple as milk or electricity, so when I moved into my own place after college, I took a subscription to the Kalamazoo Gazette. It followed me through two address changes for almost 20 years.
I never read it thoroughly, though I skim every edition. I get most of my news from public radio. I do read the occasional news item or in-depth article in the paper, but I’ve always gravitated toward the features sections. I appreciated the local coverage, the news of course, but even more the cultural coverage, like previews of theatrical productions and restaurant reviews.
Things change. After Rupert Murdoch bought the Sun-Times, Mike Royko moved to the Chicago Tribune. My parents switched papers not long after. It was hard to accept, kind of like it would be to switch allegiances from the White Sox to the Cubs.
For the past 10 years or so, I’ve heard a lot of people complain about changes in the Gazette, some even canceling their subscriptions. It kept getting thinner; they kept taking out regular features, whole sections, laying off swaths of good journalists, but it was still good enough for me until last February when, as is happening in many places, the focus switched dramatically to on-line coverage. Even then, I could stand it that they’d dropped to three days of home delivery a week and gotten rid of Miss Manners.
But the content has changed too much. Because the media conglomerate which already owned the paper conglomerated even more, the local human-interest and cultural coverage is almost entirely gone. The “local” entertainment calendar lists events as far as 80 miles away but only a handful in Kalamazoo County.
So when my subscription was due for renewal, I canceled it. It wasn’t an easy decision, but the paper wasn’t giving me what I wanted anymore. I understand why the daily newspaper is an endangered species; I accept that to a certain extent the switch getting our information electronically is inevitable and that I will have to learn to use it, to rely on it if that’s not too much to expect.
I don’t know what will happen in the coming weeks when there are no papers on my doorstep. I’m not saying I’ll never subscribe again, but maybe I’ll read more magazine articles, pay more attention to the radio, look for local news stories on-line. Maybe I’ll adapt just fine, but I can’t help thinking this is a very big change, even bigger than giving up milk or becoming a Cubs fan. All kidding aside (and no offense, Cubs fans), it’s not going to be easy.