I subscribe to a lot of local and national news outlets, and as most people do these days, I read the news on a screen, because well, I'm a 30 year old millennial and it's 2021 and not 1980. But last September, out of a mix of both idle curiosity, anemoia, and a strong urge to put an end to pandemic-induced doom-scrolling, I signed up to receive a printed copy of the Sunday paper.
I've been happily reading a Sunday paper ever since.
Every Sunday Most Sundays, a paper appears before I wake up, I stumble, half asleep, out to get it, I make coffee, and then I read the news. It's a quaint experience, and it's a habit I've really come to enjoy and look forward to. The whole process takes anywhere from 30-90 minutes, then it's done, and I go about my day. On Sundays I do my absolute best not to read the news on my phone, as I do every other day. Once I've read the paper, I'm done reading the news.
Part of the reason I originally signed up for a physical paper was to force myself to read it. As I said, I subscribe to a lot of new sites, and I find a lot of articles that I want to read, but I almost never actually read them all.
With so many stories to read, I found myself naturally gravitating towards the most exciting or most outrageous news. National news is almost always much more polarizing, engaging, and exciting than state and local news, but the paradox is that state and local news is often far more important and more likely to directly influence you in your day-to-day life.
What's exciting, urgent, and engaging is rarely what's important. I noted this in a previous post about my policy blog, Democracy & Progress.
A few years back, while listening to the Ezra Klein Show, Ezra lamented that we as a society didn't spend more time focusing on local and state politics—where our time and energy is often better spent. Collectively, we don't focus on state and local politics, and yet it's only there where a lot of policy solutions can be done. That conversation stuck with me...
– California, Democracy, and Progress
I found that having a physical paper show up at my door made me more likely to read it. Simply throwing it away felt wasteful.1 That slight guilt motivates me to keep to my own goals.
In the last year, my knowledge of local & state politics has grown immensely, and I've really enjoyed the process of learning more about my state and city. I also know a lot more about both San Diego and California and what progress is and isn't being made.
Lots of people both inside and outside of the media lambast the news industry for being overly negative, and while it certainly is, national outlets are catering to a much more diverse and varied reader-base. On top of that, almost any political news story in a country as large and sufficiently polarized as the U.S. is bound to upset around 50% of readers. A political news story out of Michigan, Utah, or Texas (to pick three states at random) will likely upset Californians and vice versa. State and local news is more likely to comport with your views—assuming you somewhat agree with your community at-large.
I often discuss the news with friends and I usually get asked some version of the question, "How can you read the news so much? Isn't it just depressing?"
It can be, sure. But California has done quite a few things lately that I really like, and there's a lot of potential here for us to tackle big problems. If you're constantly focused on national news, it can feel like nothing ever gets done (because nationally nothing ever gets done), but locally that's just not true. Huge things are happening in California, and it feels good to know what they are.
I've also learned a lot about things I didn't think I would be interested in. The internet has trained us to seek filter bubbles and echo chambers, and to retreat into our known interests. A newspaper, because of its physical constraints, cannot be all things to all people. There are often pages of articles about topics I wouldn't say I care about, and yet I find myself reading them. On Sundays I find myself learning about up-and-coming bands, concerts, local events, and investing tips whether I wanted to or not, and it's been a really positive experience; not universally positive, but still very positive. Echo chambers aren't great, and physical papers are a good escape from them.
I'm not sure I had much of a high-minded conclusion to this retrospective, but I can say that I've enjoyed the anachronistic ritual of reading a physical paper, and I expect to continue doing so for a while.