No paper

Feb 27th, 2010 | By | Category: Personal Columns

Stepping into a Spar corner shop to buy a loaf of bread, there were piles of tomorrow morning’s papers on sale; Sunday newspapers at 9 pm on a Saturday, they would hardly have the late sports scores.  There were days in London when a night out presented an opportunity to buy all the morning papers.  It was an odd feeling, but reassuring; as though one had better mastery of the world by being ahead of what was going on.

Driving back through streets where people were heading out for the evening, from deep in the recesses of the mind came memories of buying Saturday evening papers that carried reports of all the days football matches.  Were they pink or green, or some other colour?  A voice from the past talks about buying something called the ‘Pink Un’  – was there really such a paper, or is the memory imagined?

Newspapers had always a feeling of security.  They were tangible, solid; hard copies, in contemporary parlance.  For a newspaper to be in one’s hands demanded a whole chain of human action and presence, ending in the location where one happened to  be.  There were the printers and distributors and sellers, and while the first two were anonymous and remote, the newspaper seller was very tangible flesh and blood.  For three or four years when both children were day pupils at their secondary school, our morning paper came from a man who sold them at the traffic lights of a local road junction.  If the lights were green and there was not time to stop, it was sufficient to slow down with the car window wound down and the paper would be tossed into the car as we passed the traffic island – he would be paid the next day.

Television and radio never had that feeling of interaction.  Sometimes, when feeling lonely, the paper seller would be one of the few people who would be happy to chat.  The conversation would not extend beyond the weather or some bland comment upon the lead story, but it was better than having no-one to whom to talk.  Sometimes the paper sellers seemed characters of mystery: where did they live? What did they do with the rest of their time?  Where did the man from the traffic lights go when he disappeared at 8.30 each morning.

The gradual decline of the newspapers brings with it the prospect of losing a point of human interaction.  If the newspaper sellers all disappear and there are no longer piles of the morning editions on the floors of corner shops, a little bit of the jigsaw of daily life will be lost.

Electronic communication is wonderful.  The ability to click a mouse and immediately access news stories from every imaginable angle brings a whole world of knowledge unattainable by turning the pages of the paper. But the international is impersonal and intangible.  The process that led to having a newspaper in one’s hands gave that paper a sense of authority, a sense that it carried weight.  The easy access to the Internet and the ability to post just about anything means the news online has not the same authority because it has not demanded the process of reporting and production that gives authority to newspapers.  Opinion expressed online has not the authority of opinion expressed, and paid for, in hard copy.

When the day comes that the Spar shop has no papers for sale, something will have been lost.

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  1. The newspaper industry is going through a state of turmoil. They diverisified into “online media” but are not now seeing the financial returns that they once thought they would from these ventures.

    I now much rather prefer to read Google News every day to catch up on what’s happening in this world and check out various blogs for opinions and lifestyle features.

    Just like the clergy man who earlier this week announced the commencement of his fifteen minute “quickie” service we all have to change with the times to meet modern demands.

  2. That day is coming I fear Ian. Although paper sellers are long gone from our streets. These days they just roll them up in glad wrap and hurl them from a speeding vehicle onto your lawn! then again, I think like books, there will always be a ‘market’ for newsprint . . besides, how else would we clean our windows to a sparkling transparency?

  3. Newspapers, morning and evening and the dreaded weed (ciggies) were the life blood of corner newsagents for many years. The greeting was welcoming and FREE, while nowadays the staff change like we do our socks, are poorly paid an show little recognition never mind interest in finding the items we want to purchase.

    I must say I prefer to find my news online, my arms no longer enjoy holding newspapers that are ¾s full of Advertising for items I do not want.

  4. Sad about newspapers surely.

    As far as the internet is concerned, you need to find blogs that you trust and confine yourself to these. Although there is no independent editorial control, such blogs live on their reputations and that can be a sufficient quality control. Mind you, the existence of an editorial structure in the hardcopy newspapers did not guarantee standards either. Most of them had an agenda and in the event were prisoners of their advertisers to a greater or lesser degree.

  5. I would say most blogs that I view have better quality control that most newspapers. It is sad that you can read traditional quality broadsheets from cover to cover in under 15 minutes – it would take a few minutes longer if you wish to read some of the rubbish contained within.

    Funny really because when you calculate the cost over an hour it equates to the minimum wage. Newspapers are dumbing down to fill space, volume is vanity but quality is sanity.

  6. Wasn’t the Financial Times known as the Pink Un – though that’s not the one you’re thinking of I’m sure.
    I get a lot of my news online these days – via twitter and trusted blogs. But I’ll be sad to see newspapers go completely. But the interesting newspaper vendors are being killed off even without online news, in many cases it’s free papers that are delivering the coup de grace. (I wrote about one mate’s last days, you already saw it I think Ian )
    But I’m more worried about books becoming digital artefacts – data files on electronic readers – if I don’t hurry up and get my own book done and dusted and out there, it’ll be too late. I don’t think there’ll be that same feeling of pride holding an electronic entry in my hand.

  7. Sorry for the delay in comments appearing – they have been going into the spam box for some reason.

    Doing a Google search, I discovered the ‘Pink Un ‘ had been the sports appear for Norwich and the “Green Un” for Sheffield, but neither would have connected with anyone I knew – I thought there was a Birmingham paper.

    I find it difficult to read more than a couple of paragraphs on a monitor and love the Saturday papers – particularly the FT. The fact that diverse people pay for them gives them a credibility that does not exist with websites other than those sites that are just the online arm of existing media groups.

  8. what is sad to see is the diminishing quality of what once were quality newspapers. Murdoch and like-minded cronies have done in the quality British papers but here we have done it all by ourselves. What is news about seeing ugly women dressed in ugly clothes prancing down a cat-walk? What is “news” about some stupid footballers not shaking handswith each other? I don’t need a weekly health supplement, a property supplement, a fashion supplement, or an advertising guide to the arts, restaurants wines, home decorating etc. etc or the rest of the 90% advertising material that constitutes today’s papers. Save the planet, stop printing all this junk and let’s get back to reporting news.

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