ESSAY- Cancel: Divorcing the daily paper

After 37 years of subscribing to the daily newspaper, I wrote "cancel" on the last bill and sent it back.

Since I've been subscribing for nearly four decades, it's obvious I am not a member of the young demographic that newspapers haven't been able to attract. Print journalism is a) low tech and b) costs money. Neither is appealing to young people who grew up with the Internet and can customize their information intake and get it without a subscription fee. I'm in the age group that is still reading a daily newspaper out of long habit.

But one reason I let my subscription lapse is the fee, which seems out of proportion these days to how much of the paper I actually look at. To compensate for the rising cost of everything, I had to make a budget cut somewhere. I didn't want to give up cable. I need to keep HBO until The Sopranos ends. I didn't want to give up XM radio because I fall asleep to Alan Colmes on Fox Talk, amazed and comforted that there is actually a smart, funny, liberal talk radio host still alive in America. So the thing I spent the least time with, the newspaper, had to go. 

I have no time to read in the morning anyway. I have to get to work. I have to load the dishwasher, feed the cats, get the bills together to mail. The Today Show can chatter away in the background while I'm running around and let me know if there's a terrorist attack before I get on the interstate.

For the majority of my years as a subscriber, I received the now-defunct afternoon paper, which at least had some news in it that had happened that day. I had all evening to read it during commercials (remember the old days when you couldn't fast-forward through the commercials?) Now my morning paper is yesterday's news, and if I save it until the evening, it's almost two days old. 

TV tells me everything has changed, and if I need more details, I can log on to CNN or Google News Search. This is essential since someone on my daily paper decided I needed to know only a one-time brief story about Anna Nicole Smith's son dying, when I actually needed a daily update on that until someone else vaguely famous dies.

Newspaper publishers claim they are dealing with the change in lifestyles and the competing information sources, but they're not dealing with them fast enough. They promise more local news, but they don't deliver any more than they used to. The newspaper sections are still predetermined by advertising inches. 

On the other hand, the free weeklies are usually nothing but local news, and they're free. They do a better job of targeting a niche audience. Dailies have to cater to too many demographics and end up giving too little to any of them. Those of us who think American Idol is front page news are never going to live in harmony with those who think diplomatic relations and political upheavals need to be covered in daily detail.

For a while, my daily newspaper decided, on the whim of a single cranky copy chief, that it was no longer going to run stories about murders from around the country. I was shocked when I heard this, the fact that one old dude who had had enough was going to decide what kind of news I should read. This is when you vote with your wallet. I wondered how much I wasn't being told, and as my news sources expanded beyond the hometown paper and local television stations, I was introduced to a world of alternative views and different interpretations of what news is.

What my daily did do to keep abreast was go to the Internet, where they can update their stories between editions, and even run blogs of breaking news as it happens. That's good, but I'm still not going to renew the subscription. The non-newspaper local bloggers are still ahead of the curve, offering the quirkier details and investigative depth. The newspaper-employed bloggers are hamstrung by advertising executives, marketing departments, and stodgy editors.

After college, I desperately wanted to be a newspaper reporter, but the editors wanted experience, master degrees, credentials, connections... it was always something keeping me out and my voice silent. 

Now that has changed. Anyone can get a blog, and just about every freelance writer in town who used to compete with me for jobs is now self-publishing. Some have become award-winning investigative journalists all on their own, with no advertising departments or timid executive editors to tie their hands. And I can read their work for free. (Of course, it's a bummer for those who have to choose between writing and eating to have to self-publish, but you get to see where the true passion for the craft is.)

Is there anything I'll miss about the paper? I've located websites that carry the two comic strips I still read. (Comic humor has not changed in decades, cycling around the same limited number of gags. Garfield is lazy. I get it. Cathy, even married now, obsesses about her weight, clothes, and getting organized. Beetle Bailey never went to Vietnam or any Mideast conflict. The Family Circus never grows up or out of the 1950s.) 

I do need to know if Elizabeth in "For Better For Worse" hooks back up with her high school boyfriend, which I think is going to happen. And I suspect Doonesbury's daughter, despite her hyper-maturity, is going to wash out of college. I still care about those outcomes.

Other than that, my long romance with newspapers is creaking to a 21st-century conclusion. It's just more recycling to me these days. Even the Sunday paper is too much information for a day when, despite it being Sunday, I don't have time. We've worked 50-hour weeks, and the weekend is the only time to catch up on housecleaning, laundry, and all the shows we taped on the DVR or the latest Netflix movie delivered right to our door. Tabloids and magazines are easier to deal with in the bathroom or to carry in my purse at lunchtime.

Newspapers were my passion for so long, that like the lovers in Brokeback Mountain, I didn't know how to quit them. But the romance is over now. It's time for a divorce.

Mariane Matera is a Richmond cat lover and a former editor (Mechanicsville Local) and editor-publisher (Richmond Music Journal).