Newspapers are an institution, like the corner milk bar and its one cent lollies. It broke my heart a little when Fairfax announced they would be winding back their print newspaper business in favour of online news back in June. Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes have both reportedly predicted that printed versions will cease to exist within the next 10 years.
Why did it make me so sad? The newspaper is where our intellectual life meets our public life. Newspapers represent the kind of meandering, thoughtful, digestive life we should be trying to preserve. They’re an important part of democracy, and good journalism is there to hold big business and government accountable.
Once upon a time, the newspaper was the place to get to the bottom of things, to get the full story. Digital news is hurried and patchy, like a teenage chicken stuck somewhere between down and feathers. It’s incomplete, frequently inaccurate (or full of spelling mistakes) and doesn’t tell the full story … because the full story hasn’t always unfolded at the time it’s posted on the internet. It’s not readers asking for the fastest news: the technology seems to rudely imply it. The internet has the pace of a teenage boy: frenzied and a teensy bit desperate. For attention, for bigger things, for life to begin. Sure, it’ll grow to be a fine young man one day, but in the meantime, how do we slow the pace down?
If the newspaper slides into extinction, I wonder if our culture will slide further into a state of distraction, driven by trends, ‘likes’, hashtags and pretty, shiny things.
Newspapers: take them fishing, wrap up your potato peels, line the nesting boxes of your hen house. You can’t do that with digital news. A newspaper can be shaped into a hat, a boat, or a sword for the short people in your life. Without newspapers in the compost heap of our days, I wonder if the delicate balance that allows us to direct the pace of our free time will be destroyed. Perhaps we don’t read anymore: or fish, or peel our own vegetables, or keep chickens. Remember a time when this was the considered the good life?
There is a romance to reading the paper. My husband was reading the paper during the labours of our eldest sons. The first labour, induced and long, happened on Trading Post day (devotees will remember Trading Post day as a Thursday. They stopped printing it a few years ago.)
“How much would you ask for a 1978 pop-top caravan? Go on? How much?” he’d ask, as I was reaching another contraction.
“Uuuuurgggggh … eeeehh, feoooow…” I replied.
Our second son was a little more rushed. Also born on a Thursday, The Age provided a useful distraction for Mr Karen as I was anaesthetised and prepared for an emergency caesarian. There was no time for bargaining and haggling on this morning, instead he read out the news and weather to me in an operating room full of a dozen medical professionals. As the doctors performed a minor miracle on the other side of the green curtain, he held my hand in his, and in his other hand he held the paper. To say my husband spent that time clicking on his smart phone would paint a picture of distraction, of adolescent searching for the end of boredom, to fill a hunger as big as the world wide web itself. The reality was an anxious dad, sailing across a worried sea on a small boat made of paper.
Where do you get your news from?