A newspaper cured her Internet addiction

By Katy Byron
Poynter Institute

For the first time in my life, I am a print newspaper subscriber. I’m 36 years old. And when I confirmed my home delivery subscription to The Wall Street Journal earlier this month, it felt … so good.
This is unusual for a couple of reasons. First, I am a third-generation journalist. My grandparents worked in radio and my dad wrote for various newspapers and print publications for over 40 years. Second, I have read thousands of print newspapers. In my 20s, I was reading four to five newspapers every day working on various assignment desks at CNN in New York, Washington and Atlanta, searching for stories that would make “good TV.”
Third, I love holding a newspaper. My earliest memories of holding and reading a newspaper were from when I was 18, riding the train from my parents’ house in Connecticut to New York City, commuting to my summer internship and reading the newspaper in the morning along with everyone else on Metro North in the tri-state area running the rat race to Wall Street. The black ink on my fingers felt like a badge of honor.
Maybe it was because journalism is in my blood — or maybe because it was a part of life of becoming an adult in the early 2000s. You read the newspaper every day, everyone did.
So what happened? Why didn’t I subscribe to a newspaper sooner? Online happened. Over the years, I read more and more newspapers through their websites, and then skimmed more and more of their headlines on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and others. I have long felt ashamed for not subscribing to a print newspaper. Every excuse I have is bad.
When I left the CNN New York bureau in 2007, there were at least six national and local newspapers delivered to the newsroom. When I came back to the New York bureau five years later, after stints in D.C. and Atlanta, I had risen to the title of producer and was excited to get my own personal stack of newspapers on my desk every morning. I was saddened to learn that the practice had stopped. We were expected to read them online.
At CNBC by 2014, anchors and control room staff read the papers for programs I worked on like “Squawk Box,” but no other staff was offered the opportunity. And my last newsroom was Snapchat — there were no newspapers there (or anywhere in the office) even though the New York office is inside the original New York Times building.
So why did I subscribe now after all these years? COVID-19.
Like many Americans and people around the world, the amount of screentime my husband and I (and our son) have been exposed to since the pandemic began has been — troubling. Between work, being on lockdown at home, keeping our toddler occupied while my husband and I work full time, and consuming news for both work and personal reasons well past midnight for many, many, many nights … I hit a wall.
I just couldn’t keep up with doing my job, being a good journalist, as well as a responsible wife, mother and daughter to a high-risk parent nearby, staying on top of the latest alerts and news from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo with my family living in a coronavirus hotspot in Westchester County, New York. I had to find a way to cut back on my screentime and get the information that I needed.
Subscribing to the Journal was the best decision I have made through this entire pandemic. And when the actual newspaper came … my spirits were lifted instantly. The feeling of walking to the end of the driveway to pick up my print newspaper every morning has brought me more joy than I can put into words. It’s like every morning is Christmas morning — the grown-up edition.
This was one daily task or chore I volunteered to pick up in my house — because this was my thing. This was my newspaper. It might sound corny and I am clearly biased on this subject, but this change in my life that I was able to control has been a sincere silver lining to this living nightmare we are all living through.
Since subscribing to the print edition, I have significantly cut back on my screentime and felt better informed than I have been in, frankly, years. As someone who spends four to five hours per day on my phone and even more on screens constantly refreshing social media for work and personal reasons — and as someone who prides themself on following a variety of sources across platforms and makes a concerted effort to get outside of my echo chamber — this was a major surprise to me.
One important observation. The Journal is much, much thinner since the last time I held it in my hands. It breaks my heart just how thin each edition is, and that first delivery made me wonder, sadly: How long will this print edition last?
I am hopeful that others like me who feel OD’d on the Internet will look for another way to get the news, and turn to print — national or local. Could this be a moment in human behavioral change for newspapers to capitalize on? Absolutely. Could I be wrong? Of course. But one thing I do know is that I am so grateful for print newspapers and I hope they make a comeback.

Author: Rachel Howell

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