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Tue., Nov. 6, 2007

Hanging in there with newspapers

I was cleaning my desk out on Friday, but not for the reason you might think. I was moving to a new desk, part of a seating change that I’d been looking forward to for weeks, as I will be by a window. But I couldn’t help thinking about people several floors above me in The Spokesman-Review building. They were cleaning their desks out for different reasons entirely. People who had a kind smile for me when I was a new employee here five years ago, people who would be leaving at the end of the day but, unlike myself and others, wouldn’t be coming back on Monday morning.

I count myself one of the luckiest people on the planet. You see, I love my job. I work in a beautiful, old building where everyone from the security guard to the owner of the paper says hello with a smile. My co-workers are intelligent and involved, with interesting stories about travel and life that get shared over the occasional lunch or office potluck. I help people with missed papers and classified ads, and at the end of the day, I go home with a sense of satisfaction in my work. It’s a small thing, but it matters. And as trite as it sounds, I really do feel like a member of a family – a family that lost 14 people last week and will be losing more.

Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion about business plans and adaptations to new mediums, all of it an effort to save a business that, after thriving for more than 500 years, is now struggling just to maintain. I’m a member of the technology generation, comfortable with computers, cell phones and MP3 players, but nothing I’ve seen online can replace a newspaper, and it saddens me that more people don’t seem to recognize its value. After all, I can download the movie times, but to get a review from someone who will tell me more than “this film rulez,” I look to the newspaper.

There’s a solidity to newspaper despite the fragile paper it’s printed on. It carries the weight of history in the making, the contemporary accounts of people as the world changes around them. To look back at older papers is to learn not just what a society thought about the issues of the time, but to see what they paid for their clothes, what they thought was amusing, and often to realize how little people really change. Those same people have been writing letters to the editor for hundreds of years, voicing agreement or dissent and offering ways to make the community better, just like they do now.

Newspapers tell the stories of our lives. From the world events that affect everyone to the mundane details of birth, marriage and death, newspapers chronicle our time on the earth. They serve as our connection to those who came before us and to those who live far away. I’ve found that newspapers served as a common thread throughout my life. I can recall racing my brother to the Sunday funnies and, as we grew older, squabbling over who got to do the crossword puzzle. But neither of us ever dared to touch the sports section before Dad got to look at it.

My first car, my first apartment, my first job, all came about through ads, interspersed with the frequent articles my mother clipped out and mailed to me in college. Later there were notices about weddings and births, both my own and my friends’. All duly recorded in the newspaper, to be cut out and saved, pressed into albums and baby books so another generation can cherish them in time.

I’m not suggesting that technology be avoided. After all, I maintain a blog and chat regularly with friends across the world — people who have enriched my life, people whom I would never have known if it weren’t for computers.

But there’s something to be said for the tangible as well, the feel of pen and paper and the permanency of the words there. Perhaps that’s why people still write letters when there’s something very important to say. After all, nobody talks about keeping old love e-mails or sifting through past Web pages with a misty smile.

For me, the same is true of the weight of the Sunday issue and slick feel of the Christmas ads, and the rich butter-yellow color of aged newsprint.

So I’m keeping my subscription. I’ll continue to hand the comics page over to my son and hope that he learns the value of newspapers from my example.

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