Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Why I still take the newspaper

Before heading off to the gym this morning, I followed my usual routine of reading the newspaper where I was formerly employed. Some people might wonder why I still do this, paying money to an institution that cut me loose so readily, and for a product that has clearly diminished. It's especially hard for someone like myself who is very interested in arts & entertainment and other feature coverage, and The Indianapolis Star has essentially eliminated the features section four days a week.

Oh, I know there's something included in the paper called an "Extra" section that the Star honchos would claim is the features section, but let's be blunt here: It's the classified section, filled out with comics and puzzles. There's been one small "story" at the top of the section each day, but it's a five- or six-inch blip with little substance. (I'm not being snooty; I had to write plenty of these myself over the years.)

The comics, puzzles, TV listings and syndicated columns are what we in the features biz call "furniture" -- stuff that occupies the same space day after day, and can be slapped in with minimal effort and editing.

They'd talked about these changes for months before they happened, and the question everyone in features department had was whether they were simply folding the features section into an existing part of the paper, as they have done with the business section, or actually eliminating all the daily features content except for the furniture. Now that we've seen it, it's clearly the latter.

So why do I still take the paper? Part of it is habit. I grew up with parents who read the paper every day (and still do), and it rubbed off. I can't imagine my day without thumbing through the sections, even though there's less and less of what I like to read. Some days "reading the paper" consists of a 5-minute skim.

Another part of it is reading the bylines of friends and former colleagues. Matt Tully takes a lot of beating in the Indy blogosphere, but he's a good friend and a good columnist, and I want to hear what he has to say. Ditto for David Lindquist, Shari Rudvasky, Mike Wells, Erika Smith and many others whose bylines I consistently enjoyed.

But the most basic reason is the one I would give to people when I was still employed by a newspaper, and they asked why they should pay for what they can get online for free. It's that news, or content, or whatever you want to call it, doesn't come free -- the good stuff, anyway. If I want to see this stuff, whether online or on paper, I feel I should pay something for it. Otherwise, it's likely to just go away ... suddenly, or bit by little bit.

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