Learning to Love the Digital Newspaper

For whatever reasons I have resisted online newspapers. I am happy to use them for research purposes or to follow-up on a local story. But online newspapers have never brought me the same joy as the print edition. The same is true of the Kindle and e-books, although that change has been easier. There are times I greatly prefer the Kindle to the heft of a bound book that is 400 to 500 pages in length.

For many years we subscribed to The Washington Post and how I loved that paper. We lived in a second story apartment in Washington, D.C. and the paper arrived every morning via the mail slot at the foot of the stairs. I recall descending the stairs every morning and reading articles as I climbed the stairs back to our apartment. So much history was revealed in the little stairwell; presidents resigning, elections, wars and celebrations. Among my most vivid memories is the cold December morning when I opened the paper and saw the headline that John Lennon had been assassinated. I literally went weak in the knees and slumped against the wall.

There was always time to read The Post and if my schedule demanded an extra early start I would arise earlier to have at least enough time to read the critical front section. The rest could wait for the evening or during a lunch break.

After we returned to our home state of Florida in 1995 we subscribed to the local paper which was adequate but a far cry from The Post. Over time I became aware that the news coverage in this local newspaper had shifted from actual news to a rather solid drone about 1) the burgeoning real estate market, 2) the latest and greatest retail shops in town, or 3) the best way to invest your money. There was no longer any real news to speak of and I slipped into relying on the cable news networks for my national and international news. I discontinued the local paper in 2006, a decision I have never regretted.

With time the cable news networks became tedious and decidedly partisan so I looked around the web and found sites that could give me the commentary and insight I was looking for. Salon and Slate became a regular part of reading matter. Online websites at CNN, USA Today and Huffington Post provided additional detail of the “breaking news” stories. But I yearned for a newspaper, or perhaps I should say a news paper, that provided the same sense of discovery and education I had found in the print editions of old.

I am happy to report I recently found it in that venerable old tool, The New York Times.

Ironically I was never a fan of the printed Times. My major complaint was that it had “too much” news, and a lot of it was, naturally, local to New York. The type was too small and the stories too long. It was stunningly dense and difficult to navigate, which is ironic since all you really had to do was turn the page.

The online Times, however, is quite a joy. It is still dense, even more so in this age of hyperlinks. But the layout is superb and easy to navigate. The links almost always work. Videos are worked into the site, of course, but their placement is not an obstruction to getting where one wants to go, especially in the tablet format. The lead stories are appropriately placed and I have never seen a headline featuring the Kardashians. That alone is worth the cost of subscription.

The Times has a myriad of sections, many of which are very helpful. Your Day Ahead offers a concise summary of things that should be known allowing one to spend as much or as little time as is wished reading the main stories.

But the real fun comes as you begin to poke around in the various sections. One day, for example, I enjoyed a fascinating article from the Opinions Section entitled, “Fixes: In India Latrines Are Truly Lifesavers.” For anyone who has ever traveled to the Subcontinent (I went there in 2004 on a medical mission)  and wondered why that democracy has such appalling sanitation, this is a must read.

From that I jumped over to the Obituaries. I was intrigued by the headline “Alvin Dark, 92, Is Dead.” Such a name! “Alvin Dark!” Turns out he was a ballplayer with the Giants and led the team to three pennants. But I’m not much of a baseball fan so my mind and eye wandered to a nearby section entitled “From The Archives.” Here you can find a selection of obituaries of many notable individuals gleaned from the NYT archives. Among those I have enjoyed was the obit of Robert E. Lee, from the October 13, 1870 edition of The Times. You may have never thought about reading the obituary of General Lee, I know I never had, but once you begin it is hard to stop. In today’s lean writing style the sentence might have read, “General Lee dies of a stroke at age 63.” But here is the opening paragraph from 1870:

 Intelligence was received last evening of the death at Lexington, Va., Of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the most famous of the officers whose celebrity was gained in the service of the Southern Confederacy during the late terrible rebellion. A report was received some days ago that he had been smitten with paralysis, but this was denied, and though it was admitted that he was seriously ill, hopes of his speedy recovery seem to have been entertained by his friends. Within the last two or three days his symptoms had taken an unfavorable turn, and he expired at 91/2 o’clock yesterday morning of congestion of the brain, at the age of sixty-three years, eight months and twenty-three days.

The Times does not write scanty obits and the obituary of General Lee is so well-written that it becomes a dynamic history lesson. Here is a sample:

 In the Spring and Summer of 1864 that indomitable soldier gradually inclosed [sic] the City of Richmond as with a girdle of iron, which he drew closer and closer with irresistible energy and inexorable determination, repulsing the rebel forces whenever they ventured to make an attack, which they did several times with considerable vigor.

In that same day I also read the obituaries of Anne Sullivan Macy, companion to Helen Keller, and Indira Ghandi, assassinated prime minister of India. Your own tastes might trend more to The Learning Network or fashion or home design or opinion. Whatever your reading tastes might be you can probably find an edible delight in The Times. Try it. Learn to love a news paper again. ❧


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