In January my hometown newspaper, the Harrisburg Patriot-News, will switch to a three-day-a-week publication schedule. It’s not the first paper to do that and it won’t be the last. “The plan to reinvent ourselves into a digitally focused organization with a quality print product three days a week is aimed at making sure that kind of work continues long into the future,” publisher John Kirkpatrick says, referring to the paper’s high quality journalism. I understand the economics of the dying newspaper business and he’s probably right. I’m no Luddite. I have an iPhone and an iPad; I’m active on Twitter and Facebook and I’m an avid consumer of more blogs and websites than I can count. But that doesn’t prevent me from feeling that in this stampede to abandon print something tangible is lost. I think I’ve figured out at least a bit of what it is.
Each morning before I settle in sleepily over a bowl of cereal I shuffle down the driveway to retrieve the newspaper, flung there in a predawn hour and lying in its wrapper of thin green plastic. As I breathe in the quiet air I spend a few seconds studying the sky, experiencing the way the darkness and light change through the seasons, sensing the coming day’s weather. I heft the paper, thinner these days, and it reminds me, at least in that brief span of time, that some part of the world is functioning as it should. While I’ve slept, a group of people have explained pieces of it, ordered it and delivered it to me in a package I can hold comfortably in my hands. Of course, I can sit at the breakfast table and scan the electronic headlines of newspapers from New York to Jerusalem to Beijing to learn more, faster and cleaner than I can rustling the pages of the paper. But I don’t need to be swept onto the Internet to find out there’ll be a new traffic light at a dangerous intersection near my house, that a local charity has surpassed its fundraising goal or that the woman who taught me in third grade has passed away. Four days a week now I’ll start my day without savoring these ordinary moments, ones we’re too quick to dismiss as nothing more than mundane routine. In truth, in their simplicity they connect me more intimately to the world than the click of a mouse or a screen swipe ever will. The moments are small ones; their loss is not.