The Newspaperness of Newspapers

Posted: December 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

I just found this on an old desktop but thought it more relevant today than whenver the author, Brian Doyle, first penned it.

The Newspaperness of Newspapers

Hey, I read the papers, so I am well aware of the precipitous national decline in advertising pages, the plummeting numbers of subscribers, the slumps in circulations, the wailing and sobbing of executives as they kneel and worship the holy internet, burning incense before their glowing computer screens in hopes of attracting the 18-to-35 demographic, but the thoughts occur to me, as I am sure they have occurred to you, that (a) maybe newspapers are not dying but dieting, and will soon emerge from this arduous winnowing period healthier and happier, and (b) has anyone paused here along the groaning road to celebrate the sweet inky newspaperness of newspapers? Do we so take them for granted that we don’t see how cool and unique they are, in so many odd and graceful ways?

Such as the way they open like wings or arms, and patiently give us stories, without the nagging and wheedling of television, the drone and yowp of radio, the cold glow of the computer. Or the way they cheerfully fold themselves into squares and rectangles and let us read them any old way any old where. Or the way they are friendly and useful and immediate and neighborly with grocery coupons and police logs and shipping calendars and theater listings and smiling profiles of cops and nurses and fifth-grade teachers and small boys who rescue ducklings from storm drains. Or the way they offer themselves with silent grace as kindling and fishwrap and in-a-pinch giftwrap for birthday presents you forgot to get whatsoever. Or the way they get divvied up on Sunday morning to various members of the family according to interest and obsession, the food section going to the father who fancies himself a chef, the sports section to the small boy addicted to agate type, the comics to a second boy, the news to the intelligent and curious mother, the business section to the grandfather who for some reason checks the price of silver and gold every morning and claims to have a serious interest in how much grain is exported weekly from Oregon to countries under constellations unknown. Or the sheer generosity of information and opinion in the paper, some hundred large pages a day of used cars, used dogs, processed political guff, polished editorial prose, furious and hilarious letters to the editor, crossword puzzles, adoptable children, cartoon strips like Mary Worth that have been running since the dawn of recorded time, stock prices, bond markets, bicycles for sale, fulminations and recriminations, lies from the Legislature, photographs from around the world, used tires, maps and graphs, the misadventures of celebrities, scientific discovery, battalion reunions, funeral arrangements, and what time the Blazers are on – among much else.

Consider for a moment that newspapers are organic and recyclable, do not require electricity, are portable, are redolent, can be read by children, foster literacy, foment community, are useful for lining windows and cedar chests, can be used for school projects having to do with volcanic action in the Cascade Range, are sometimes carried by proud dogs, can be used effectively against wasps, can be thoroughly consumed in twenty minutes (forty on Sunday), and are filled with voices from every class and shape and stripe and color and age and sort of human being, and then maybe you will wonder, as I do, if we take their technology and utility for granted. Beautifully designed to fit human life, delivered magically before dawn to your door, costing something like a penny a page, is there any other medium so thoroughly informative, so unassuming, so much a part of communal life that we don’t stop to salute it as much as we should? In the same way that we take cops and teachers for granted, and nurses and mothers, and plumbing and blackberries, and literacy and ballots, and marriage and ministers, I think we mostly ignore the sweet wild gift right under our noses – literally, in the case of newspapers, which spread out beneath our hungry eyes every day like countries we have never even imagined. So this morning, maybe right now, take a moment and contemplate the flutter of ideas in your fingers. A curious and lovely gift, yes?

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of Thirsty for the Joy: Australian & American Voices (onedayhill.com.au).

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