Autumn brings many changes; maybe that’s why I’m feeling them so acutely. Or maybe it’s my friend calling last week to say that September 30 would be the Mail Tribune’s last day as a printed newspaper. “My husband was a journalist,” she said, despairingly, “I was raised with newspapers.” I commiserated with her. The Ashland Tidings ceased publication altogether last year (1876-2021, per Wikipedia) and I feel the loss every time I walk past an empty newspaper vending machine downtown.
It dates me to say that I enjoy the feel of a newspaper in my hands; I turn the page, crease and fold it to get a better view, or put it aside for later. I seem to notice more and find that I read the articles more in-depth as I turn the pages of a printed paper, often finding obscure pieces buried on the back pages. I like to read knowing that my every click or the length of time I spend on an article is not being potentially tracked by some algorithmic formula (and, no, that is not being paranoid).
But were my friend and I only mourning the idea of no longer having a piece of newsprint in our hands while drinking our morning coffee? I don’t think so. I think it goes to what newspapers have meant to us over the years. “Did you see today’s paper?” are words many of us grew up with; they were part of our daily ritual. I can still see my father, after a hard day at work, puffing his pipe, relaxing, and reading the evening paper. Newspapers would lie around in shops and be picked up casually and perused while waiting in the barbershop or such, their articles hashed over by everyone present. Birth, engagement, anniversary, and death notices were carefully clipped out and saved in family files. Remember how much fun it was to see someone’s name in the sports section the next morning after they scored a home run or played in the homecoming football game or won a prize at the County Fair, or high school or college graduation ceremonies? Local newspapers have traditionally been vital conduits for sharing joys, tragedies, scandals and controversies in the lives of those around us.
When I moved to Ashland, I remember the Ashland Daily Tidings as a newspaper with an experienced editor, staff, and reporters who knew the Rogue Valley (the late John Darling, among them). Former editor Bert Etling even sometimes held public coffee meetings upstairs at Bloomsbury’s Coffee House. City council meetings, local sports, entertainment and new business ventures were covered; the website was updated and archived. To many, Ashland’s daily newspaper was a vital local resource for community issues.
I know many people who feel that tangible, printed things—things that last—are vitally important to our cultural well-being; to be able to walk into museums and libraries and institutions of higher learning and see and touch things that have existed long before us and that will exist long after we are gone. We need to learn from such things, to glean research, to sometimes feel the actual pages of a document that has been touched by many hands before us, to see the graininess of an old wartime black & white photo up close. I believe we need these things in order to gain an understanding and respect for knowledge and for documenting truths that cannot come from watching 10-second TikTok videos or social media posts that go poof after their short life is spent.
Sadly, we all know the printed newspaper format is almost extinct. That is something we have to accept, it seems, as part of our electronic age. But I think it is also perfectly appropriate to mourn the loss of something that added value in our lives and be grateful we had it as long as we did. To do anything less would be to deny our humanness. And, though I realize that AI is right around the corner, I’m not willing to concede that quite yet.
Susanne Severeid is an award-winning author/actor/presenter with an extensive background in international broadcast journalism. (www.susannesevereid.com)
©2022 Susanne Severeid