Thinner and thinner. Every day the paper
that lands on our doorstep or gets fetched from the box by the bus stop
gets thinner and thinner. There are fewer stories by fewer reporters;
there are fewer advertisements, and even fewer classifieds. Bright
side: There are more cute pictures of dogs, but I cling to the
old-fashioned notion that my newspaper comes into the house to tell me
about the world. The dog comes in to eat the garbage while I’m at work.
The daily newspaper has gone the way of
the full-size Hershey bar and the pound can of coffee, gradually
wasting away before our eyes. But it’s worse than that. It’s like they
started making 11-ounce beers. It’s like getting paid in Canadian
For those of us who can’t start the day
without reading the paper, this is a nightmare, and in my version of
the nightmare I keep chewing and chewing on a vaguely familiar
substance, but I grow hungrier with every bite. Each day it gets harder
and harder to have the full tactile sensory experience of reading the
newspaper. The black-and-white paper that used to land with a thud on
the porch once contained three or four hefty sections filled with news,
opinion, sports and grocery ads. Now this emaciated journal doesn’t
even wake the cat when it’s plopped down.
It contains just a pair of sections with
little rhyme or reason, bound together by explanations of why this
trimmed-down delivery is really better for us, worth the extra quarter.
Well it’s not better for me. It’s like
biting into a burger and finding out it’s just grilled tofu. It’s like
drinking tea in the morning when you’re used to coffee. When you read
what passes for a daily paper these days, you know how Catholics feel
at a Protestant wedding: There’s just a vague inescapable feeling that
something is just not right, although everyone seems to politely go
along. Reading the news on the Internet is even more disconcerting; for
me news sites are to the newspaper what Unitarians are to real
churchgoers. (Don’t get me wrong; they’re such good people.)
How do you make a skinny little paper
bridge the gap from first light through second cup of coffee into the
dawn of wakefulness? It’s not easy. I find myself reading the
six-point-type list of who just went bankrupt. You may find yourself
reading the recipe of the day, even if you don’t dare cook. And when
you’re done you go back to the beginning, reading stuff over again,
wondering if you’ve missed something, until you realize that you really
have read it all.
It’s over. You’ve got all you’re going
to get out of the paper. It’s time to start your day. But you’re not
ready yet. Your hands bear not a trace of that silty fine black ink
that was the price for engaging the fourth estate while still in your
pajamas. Your coffee cup is still half full. You don’t want to get in
the shower yet. It’s not supposed to be time to put the English muffin
down in the toaster.
So we ask ourselves, “What can we do?”
Here’s my idea. It’s simple. Read slowly. Read really really slowly.
Why not? Speed reading is way overrated. Studies not yet conducted will
someday show that people who read too fast tend to have more accidents
caused by driving while texting. Those people think they can read so
fast that they don’t even have to take their eyes off the road for a
Linger a bit over the news, or lack thereof. Take your time.
Read the obituaries. Go back and read
between the lines, try to figure out what they left out and why. Read
your horoscope. Read your mother’s horoscope. Read all your friends’
horoscopes. Do the crossword in pencil, then do it over again in pen.
Do the sudoko in English, then do it again in Spanish. Take careful
note of the high and low temperatures yesterday in Buenos Aires. Don’t
just gloss over the baseball scores—review each box score carefully.
Work at it. Train your mind to spend lots of time on things that just
months ago seemed completely irrelevant and worthless to you. Read Cal
Thomas word for word. I dare you.
Given the cutbacks, you’ll notice major
areas of community life that just don’t get covered. Don’t worry.
Instead of decrying the lack of information, simply indulge your own
hunches. Learn to rely on your instincts. Give your own preconceived
notions of the world some running room. It may not be true, but you work with what you’ve got.
Enunciate your newspaper. Read it out
loud. On this one the government is miles ahead of us. The Voice of
America has long hosted a broadcast service known as “Special English.”
It reaches out to the English-speaking Caribbean, where so many
variants of the mother tongue are spoken that is impossible to
misinform with just one speaker using only one dialect. So they write
the news up (typing slowly, I presume) and the announcer reads it with
such lengthy pauses between each word that it is feels nearly
unbearable. It is like being on the slowest elevator ever, stopping at
every floor, on the way to a dentist appointment, and you have to pee.
After a while, though, you do get used to it. It becomes almost
And isn’t that what a newspaper should be?