I’ve subscribed to the Kansas City Star for going on 20 years. Rare is the morning when I don’t spend an hour reading the newspaper. But the paper has been going downhill for quite some time. With a new format that puts more air in the text and pages, it seems the paper is really on the way out.
This is a terrible disappointment. Before I subscribed to the paper, I picked one up at a machine about twice a week. Inclusive of those years when I dropped coins to get a paper, I have been a regular reader for about 35 years. Before then, my father was a newspaper subscriber and I read the paper at home.
I’ve always had problems with the Star. The editorial pages have never been as liberal as I think they should have. The paper boosts the wrong projects, promotes the wrong people, and gives too much credit to the city’s allege civic leadership.
Sometimes, however, they get every bit of it right.
The news pages provide me with focus. In the age of the internet, it cuts through all the noise and narrows my vision down to a few good stories and records of my community. As a journalist, I have been critical of the paper in the past and am still today. I’ve wondered why the covered some things, which I didn’t consider news, and ignored what I thought were stories important to me and the people around me.
In all, the paper gives my day a beginning. If I don’t read the paper in the morning, I don’t read it. Sitting down to a paper in the afternoon or evening just isn’t the same and opening my day with it. On occasions when I don’t read the paper in the morning, I wander through the rest of the day feeling something is missing. Maybe the paper gives me the only “me” time I carve out of family, work, and chores. I still get bent out of shape when, for some reason—either through theft or mistake—my paper’s not delivered.
Even with the internet, I’ve relied on a physical newspaper. I have tried to look at the Star online. It just isn’t the same. Sure, I have access to many more articles, editorials, letters, and so on. But there is no filter. The Star doesn’t seem to organize the stories according to any priority. Or, maybe, I’m missing the order the newspaper staff puts to the online offerings. I’m sure they have done their analytics. They know what stories should go first due to popularity of topic or advertiser need. I don’t see it. To me, the online news site is a hodge-podge of selections with an order I haven’t been able to understand.
Then, there’s the internet mock-up of the daily paper, the e-Star. It’s better but still not the real thing. I don’t get to page through like I want. I have to read the paper in the way that the computer and online programs allow me, not as I would the physical paper. It sounds piddly, I know. I could get used to the e-paper in a few days or weeks. But the e-Star still not a paper that stains my fingers and I can set down and pick up as I wish.
In saying all this, I admit that I rely on editors and writers to feed me stories they think are important. I read the articles and make decisions based on that reading. The newspaper helps to form my opinions, my priorities.
This isn’t a bad thing. Newspapers have always had their filters. The great newspaper publishers over time presented what they wanted their publics to know. They all had their biases, regardless of the cult of objectivity. They present finished products that have gone through selection processes that include editors, writers, and advertisers.
Yes. I like that someone has taken a stand and formed a product for public consumption. I don’t always trust their decisions, but I’m a discriminating reader. I like that I have a daily friend or foe, a good guy or a fiend in the newspaper. It makes me angry, sad (for the state of news gathering), or excited. In fact, I depend on the newspaper to get me roused up in the morning and off to work or school with a head full of ideas, goals, and purposes.
Lately, I’ve been toying with the idea of dropping my subscription and spending my mornings perusing other news sources. It’d be a break after five decades of reading the Star semi-religiously for part of my life, and then every day.
The newspaper has become a shadow of what it used to be. Many people think the internet has finished the daily paper, but the denigration of the paper began a long time ago. Perhaps the downfall of the Star began when it subsumed the Kansas City Times now a lifetime ago, or when the Star decided to quit publishing the afternoon Times in the early 1990s. The newspaper has lacked a meaningful competitor for many decades, and this, perhaps, is where the arrogance of the Star began.
The internet is only a final nail in the newspaper coffin. With the proliferation of internet devices that elevated the Web from the personal computer at least a decade and a half ago, the news we get comes from, well, just about anyone, journalist or not. You don’t really know who to trust. Are the stories gathered in a discriminating way? What’s real and what’s not? We get to pick the sources of our news, which means we get to read and believe what we want. We don’t read things that don’t fit with our worldviews, opinions, or ideologies.
This was the basic good of the newspaper. I had someone defining the news for me. In that newspaper were opinions that I could disagree with, get frustrated with, and damn to my heart’s content. But it was the news of the day. I bought the paper because it was the news.
I remember being mad as hell once when the paper reduced the number of pages and increased its price. This has happened several times now. The local news section became thin, then a joke. I was at once relieved when they subsumed the local section into the front page but also incensed that the paper didn’t put its resources into local news. Increasingly, where once I had a healthy fistful of newsprint, I got a flimsy piece of paper. The paper slims down, the news becomes scarcer. The processes that choose the news becomes more limited, as does the product those processes create.
I have wavered in my decision about getting rid of the newspaper because it is such a part of my life. But I get distressed when, on a Monday, I can race through the paper in less than 20 minutes. I want a paper that keeps my occupied for a solid hour. I could subscribe to the New York Times, which, while still a vision of its former self, is still a substantial piece of work. Taking the Times, however, won’t inform me about my town in my time. I could use the Star’s website but that’s like sorting through the dirty laundry. It has no order and it kind of stinks. I’ve already spoken about the disadvantages of the e-Star.
The new formatting of the Star may just push me over the edge. There’s not more. The formatting allows the paper to do less. I have not gaged whether there really are fewer stories and they do seem to have focused more on in-depth stories, which makes me happy.
Do I continue with my daily routine—I take the dog out and she brings the paper in for me? I sit for an hour, sometimes frustrated by the state of the paper. I get done and think, do I really need this? Is this putting focus to my day the way I want?
This last may be the question that’s most important.