Last week on September 7th, Democrat and Chronicle columnist David Andreatta asked, “Are newspapers in their last days?”
In the article, Andreatta writes of Digital Natives like his 6-year old son: They won’t know what a newspaper is because they’ll have never seen one. Andreatta wonders for how much longer print newspapers will be around: Five years? Ten years? Twenty?
As someone who came of age when print was king, the decline of print feels like a long goodbye for an elderly friend or parent — as I still cling to my print subscriptions for the D & C, the New York Times, and the New Yorker.
At the same time, spending a fair amount of time at the University of Rochester — in the very belly of the Digital Native beast — I am heartened to see that print newspapers and magazines, while not thriving, are not extinct. Like deer who have adapted to suburbia, newspapers and magazines can still be spotted around campus.
Much of the persistence of print is because the UR participates in the Collegiate Readership Program. Free copies of the D & C, New York Times, and USA Today are available at Pura Vida Café, Wilson Commons (outside of Starbucks), Gleason Library, Susan B. Anthony Hall and Douglas Dining Center.
The program is brought to UR students by The Students’ Association in collaboration with River Campus Libraries and the Parents Fund.
And it’s not just dailies that can be found around campus. The City has a mini-kiosk, and scattered about are the Campus Times, the Empty Closet, El Mensajero, the Rochester Review, Western NY Jobs, and thick pamphlets for Image Out, the Hochstein School of Music, and the Fringe Festival.
Print’s best hope lies in diehards like senior Michael Gilbert who reads the USA Today and the New York Times every day. Mike doesn’t have a specific reason why he prefers print, but he does.
True, at the time the photo was taken, Mike and his paper were alone in a sea of terminals and phones. Nonetheless, Mike is not always alone. Mike estimates about 5 – 10 % of students read the paper on a regular basis. And Mike was the only person who said he’d pay for it (50 cents) if it weren’t free.
Encouragingly, almost everyone said, on at least some occasions, they pick up a newspaper. The Times is especially popular with the metropolitan set who sip coffee early mornings at Starbucks. As one young woman said, looking at the stack outside Starbucks, the newspaper is not “totally dead.”
Some fine young luddites — looking around dismissively at the masses on their laptops — actually preferred the feel of paper in their hands. One young woman said looking at a screen all day gives her a headache; a real newspaper gives her strained neurons a break.
The same woman does the crossword puzzles — as do quite a few others — blanching when I noted they now have crossword puzzles on line. In addition, many political science classes require newspaper reading. Several students in those classes preferred the hard copy, finding it more enjoyable and easier to process in big page print format rather than online.
First year student Maggie McCrumb was sitting at a popular spot downstairs from Gleason Library near the bus stop. Maggie often takes the bus home and she usually grabs a magazine or newspaper to make the ride more pleasant.
And I was happily surprised to see the Quadrangle chock full of newspaper readers enjoying the sparkling late summer afternoon!
I sensed some people — seeing I was a member of the Bridge Generation — felt they should say nice things about print. A deference to age I can do without. For example, first year student Michael Selanov — who did a great job setting up the library deck photo op — told me, politely, he really does need to be reading more print newspapers.
And in the Great Hall across from the library deck, I noticed Jessica Harper, a political science major, reading the Times. Jessica said the atmosphere in the Great Hall — and the couches — are conducive to “old fashioned” newspaper browsing.
Finally, had not the paper copy of the Empty Closet been there on Maggie’s perch, One of the largest LGBTQ libraries in the nation receives historic donation from EUGENE Kramer would never have existed — with the paper cutting and scanning expertise of Maria Weber.
Part of me looks nostalgically at my coming-of-age during print. At Brown’s Rockefeller Library I procrastinated many an hour reading dozens of domestic and international newspapers kept on wooden sticks. Today, Rush Rhees’ print selection is rather meager.
On Sunday’s stacks of subscriptions for the Boston Globe and the New York Times were piled outside the Vernon-Wooley dining hall. The subscriptions were often purchased by Beacon Hill and Manhattan parents who wishfully hoped their children’s first priority away at college was keeping abreast of current events.
We were always amused when a Sunday subscription went unused. Hmm, what exactly had transpired last night or that morning that prevented the missing subscriber from claiming his or her newspaper at brunch?
Actually, dozens of subscriptions went unused and when the attendant left at 1pm, the newspapers were fair game. One time I took about a dozen of them and sold them at half price to a vendor nearby on Thayer Street. In what I considered an act of income redistribution, both vendor — who lived far away from plush College Hill — and I mutually profited.
Another print college memory could not happen today. One year, a couple of Brown young women became part of an escort service that was more than an escort service.The service catered to well-known Rhode Island men, and the ladies had recorded some of the activities in their journals. An investigation was underway and the Brown Daily Herald — quite a scoop — had apparently received some leaked information about the notebooks. The Herald published the exclusive information.
The next morning when campus awoke not a single copy of the Herald could be found. Someone or someones had gone to every newspaper receptacle and taken every copy they could. The goal of the theft was to hide the story from the public for as long as possible.
The plot was, of course, entirely futile. Some copies of the paper still existed. And I believe the Providence Journal reported the next day on what the Herald had published.
By contrast, today no one would even attempt or think to attempt such a desperate act. The Herald — like the UR’s Campus Times like every paper — is online. Eliminating paper copies would reduce readership negligibly if at all. And, of course, today there is no way to stop the instantaneous flow of digital information.
Today, if the Collegiate Readership Program ended — based on my anecdotal findings it should not — those quaint print icons that 30 years ago held such sway, will be missed. But, alas, mostly by Mike and his diehards.
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