Lately I have been wondering why I keep my subscription to The Dallas Morning News newspaper. Nothing against the newspaper—it’s not great, but it’s fine. However, my reasoning is fairly typical. I find myself reading the newspaper less and less; instead, I turn to on-line sources. Meanwhile, the cost has risen over 300% over the past few years for a skimpier version.
So why do I keep it? Inertia and comfort, to some degree. I am an early riser, usually up before 5:00 AM. For as long as I can remember, my morning routine has included brewing some coffee, then systematically working my way through the sports pages, the comics, and the puzzles. Then I’d finally look at the real news and op-eds. Nothing there I couldn’t accomplish with a device of some sort. But I find a certain comfort in the newspaper itself, and certain things just aren’t as fun when done by tapping on a screen. But I could adjust.
My wife also likes the newspaper. She also could adjust, but she would do so much less willingly. She believes we all—not just our family, but our culture—spends entirely too much time staring at screens. Perhaps. While that particular discussion must wait for another time, it does hint at another reason I keep renewing. I love my gadgets, and I celebrate the possibilities that modern technology has created for education. However, with everything there is an opportunity cost, in this case one of more ethereal economics. I find the slow demise of local newspapers sad for many reasons. In some ways it represents the microwave pace of our lives. More than anything, I mourn how we are losing newspapers because each holds symbolic value as a representation of its community. As such, they also have a unifying power.
But another larger reason, one which includes the others, leads me to keep having the newspaper delivered each day. As part of that morning routine, I enjoy making breakfast for my two children. After I’m done with the paper, I leave it on the kitchen table near the food. When they stumble out, the first thing my kids do is scan the various parts of the newspaper. I love to see them making that connection, however fleeting, to the issues of the larger world, our nation, and our city. Often they will ask questions, either then or later; and they can have some wonderful discussions about current issues.
I’m unable to trust serendipity will allow this to happen as they browse the web. In fact, I see it happening in quite the opposite fashion: those encounters with print can positively influence their on-line behavior. My daughter will explore certain political sites. My son, when he wants more information or is rightly skeptical about some facts, will say, “Search it up.” Those are some nice exhibits of 21st-century literacy in action. It’s also meaningful engagement with the world, albeit vicariously. Both prompted by an “outdated” technology.
And that leads to my final reason for being on auto-renewal. That newspaper on the kitchen table is a daily reminder that as we hurtle into embracing the wonders of this morphing world, certain things hold timeless value.