No (Paper) News is Good News?

As I stepped out to pick up the newspaper this morning I thought “I will not be doing this many more times.”

We have decided to end our long subscription to the Dallas Morning News. This is a big decision for me, as a former journalism student and someone who has subscribed to a daily paper since college. Every morning since then I have picked up the local paper first the Abilene Reporter News, then the Dallas Morning News from my front step, driveway, or yard almost every morning.

“So why the change of habit?” you ask. “Certainly there is more reason than ever to understand the world we live in today?”

It comes down to two reasons cost and quality.

First the Dallas Morning News has just announced another subscription increase. These have been coming at least once in every subscription renewal to the point that if I had paid for a five year subscription four years ago I would be doing much better than options in the market.

With the latest renewal the newspaper is over thirty dollars monthly for daily home delivery (My father-in-law discovered that it is around $45 a month for a new customer). For this we get a paper that especially on Monday is not much more than advertisements and reprints from wire stories and purchased packaged content from media services.

Local coverage, especially local coverage of our southern Dallas county section of the Metroplex, is scant and rarely timely. We are never able to find out what is happening in our part of the world from the paper.

Moreover, the features continue to move away from people like us and focus on the pretend rich of the northern Metroplex who shop at European boutiques and worry about balancing private school and select sports leagues.

So I will be doing what my j-school professors talked about all those years ago creating my own self selected content. In those days we were discussing Videotext delivered over the television network, and the main concern was that a readership of select selecting news consumers would narrowly define their interests, becoming less informed about the world in general over time.

Videotext never took off because people did not want to read from television screens or flickering computer monitors, and they did not want to change their habits from reading on the bus, the train, or the kitchen table to gathering the one part of the house to consume information together. The personal experience could not be replaced by the technology of the times.

A 2006 Nielsen Company study reported that the average home has access to just over 104 channels of television available and watched just over 15 of them. Television long fell from its role as the common experience, as individual viewers first watched a variety of content, then timeshifted it to different nights. Long gone are the discussions of the previous nights viewing around the water cooler. Now you never know who watched the last episode of ER last night, who plans to watch is this weekend, or who has it one their iPod to watch over the next several days at the gym.

Now newspapers are suffering the same fate. I find that I receive more information from RSS feeds of major media outlets like the Wall Street Journal than from the printed paper that hits my yard every morning. A case in point the article in this morning’s paper on protests in England regarding Google’s StreetView were discussed at the dinner table last night due to an RSS feed and later Twitter post.

At the same time, technology has advanced to the point where content is not limited to a single location in the household. The Amazon Kindle, iPhone, netbook, and tablet computer all make it possible to consume online media in a variety of ways and locations. With experiments in wireless power continuing to show promise, these devices may lose the last “string” attached to their use.

Leading to our decision to stop consuming news in the paper based format. As much as I mourn the loss of the connection to those frontier newsmen with ink stained hands and lead type, the time has come for us to place our last abacus into storage and move fully into the digital age.

My biggest concern at this point I hope that I don’t miss the funny pages over coffee too much and I am afraid that we will lose some of the family interaction that we get as we pass sections of the paper around the time. Will media fragmentation change our family dynamic? Something to watch and learn.

Merry Christmas

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

Merry Christmas to all. It has been a joyous holiday season, with lots of fun (lots of stress also) and things to do.

Overshadowing all is the realization that this is Kathryn’s last Christmas “with” us. I know that she will be home for winter break, and summers, and other holidays. Fortunately, she will not be as far away as I was from home at college. However, I also remember that being home from college is different than being home. You feel a bit like a guest in your own house, not sure where the lines are. The familiar is turned 90 degrees.

Of course, some of this for me was that my parents moved from Texas to New Jersey when I was a freshman, so home really was different than it was all those years. This compounded the differences, thing like the same food not being in the same place in the refrigerator, my room being completely different, and the fact that there was a kerosene heater in the bathroom to start up in the mornings.

Some things are always the same though – the fact that your parents love you, that your family can all be together, and that you have special traditions that are meaningful to you and make Christmas the thing that you remember.

For my family, one of these has always been driving around and looking at the lights in various neighborhoods. Living in the Dallas area now, we have a wide variety of places – Highland Park, the university area in Fort Worth, Interlochen in Arlington – that have beautiful displays of lights. I don’t remember the names of the neighborhoods in Port Arthur and Beaumont, but I remember that the lights were wonderful.

On the house in Groves where I grew up, we always had red large bulb lights along the roofline. It was a ranch style house, a single long roofline across the front, and my dad would put the lights in a perfect line along the gutter. The lights were stored in little paper boxes, seperate from the strings, so my job at Christmas was to screw in each bulb to the string so my dad could hang them up. That was a difficult job – because the sockets had high manufacturing tolerances and the bulbs would bind and stick as they were screwed in.

That’s one thing I do different – the bulbs stay in the strings here. Of course, I have never seen the bulbs in little paper boxes, when Rebecca and I started buying our own lights they were in plastic clips that were designed to come out once and never go back in. And next year, we will be leaving the world of C9 glass bulbs and moving to the LED with plastic lenses.

It seems that change is in everything, Kathryn’s last Christmas to be here “all the time”, my switching from the technology of my childhood to new types of lights, even two years ago when we bought an atrificial tree with the lights already attached. In fact, this year Alex convinced me to put multi-colored lights on the two pine trees in front of the house. I am not generally a multi-color person, but Alex thought that the wire-frame moose (lit in white lights) would stand out better against multi-color trees than against the white trees. He was right – it looks great.

Sometimes change can be good. However, I miss that the kids are now teenagers and are more interested in sleep than in chasing down the stairs for presents.

Merry Christmas all – may your traditions bring you joy on this day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.