When I was a kid, there were these things called newspapers. They were actually made of paper.
My dad and I used to ride our bikes to the corner store every Sunday and pick up a copy of the Daily Press, and maybe a dozen donuts. When we got home, I would grab the Comics, the Opinion pages, and sometimes the Arts & Events pages, while Pop would read the A section, the Weather, and the Classifieds. The paper was so big, and I was so small, that I would lay on the floor and hold up the paper with both hands and both feet. I both loved and hated the way the newsprint felt on my fingertips.
Years later, when I wrote for the Jackrabbit Journal, our high school’s lofty monthly, I came to love the smell of the paper, and the slippery, black state of my hands after delivering the finished product around campus. The writing was mediocre and the editing was a little sloppy (one of my articles, which happened to be on the subject of teen suicide, accidentally got published in multiple issues and led to my having to endure multiple counseling sessions), but the Paper was the Paper. It was alive, and I loved it. Being able to see and feel and smell the publication I helped create was far more rewarding than simply seeing my little byline. It was ultimately more fulfilling than seeing my writing on a Google search page.
Two days ago the New York Times announced the impending closure of the 137-year-old Boston Globe, only one of many papers to recently succumb to the weak economy. Two months ago the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, one of my old favorites, became online-only, and it looks as though many great papers and journals, even a few glossies, are following suit. So, the writers are still around, the publication’s personality still evident, but will the Sunday Paper Experience ever be the same? Will our children grow up wondering why in the world news websites are called “papers?” We will always have the news, but who can help but miss the paper… the real, live, pulp-based, lignin-filled paper?