4 May 2008 2:38 pm   //   Filed under: In the news, Media, Technology

Why I quit buying the Sunday paper

Sunday newspapersItem: Circulation of the Sunday New York Times dropped 9.2 percent over the last year.

Blame people like me. I used to have a Sunday routine of buying and reading the Times. Now I hardly ever buy it. Here’s why.

First, it has nothing to do with the quality of the newspaper. The Times is my local paper, and it’s arguably the best in the country. I can easily spend three hours reading the massive Sunday edition and not feel like my time was wasted.

But there’s another sort of waste that worries me. I think a lot about the environmental impact of what I buy, and print newspapers are fundamentally not green. Rushing the news out as a physical product – consuming wood pulp and ink and energy – makes less sense than ever. Do we need a fleet of delivery trucks criss-crossing our city every morning to keep us well-informed?

Until a few years ago, we did. But not anymore, thank you Internet. Every day on nytimes.com, there’s a handy index of all the stories in the print edition, which approximates the experience of browsing sections a newspaper. I set up my old laptop computer on my kitchen table, the same spot where I used to read the newspaper. If can read the same material for free, without carrying out a whole mess of paper downstairs with my recycling on Tuesday night, why wouldn’t I?

This system isn’t perfect. The best section of the Sunday paper is The New York Times Magazine, and that experience doesn’t translate as well online. Magazine photos look better on glossy paper than on my computer screen. And doing the crossword online is for losers.

If the Times Magazine were sold as a separate product for $4 – and were available all week, like other weekly magazines – I would probably keep buying it. Yes, that’s right: The guilt I feel about needlessly throwing away a forest of newsprint is enough to keep me from buying the only part of the Sunday paper I still want.

Each time a story comes out about newspaper circulation dropping, reader reaction is predictable: It’s the fault of those sorry journalists. (Typical Huffington Post comment: “I’m surprised anyone reads the NYT after Judith Miller.”) Publishers seem to be getting the message. As newspapers (including the Times) scramble to cut costs, they’re downsizing their editorial staffs.

It’s a shame, since the newsroom is the one element of the newspaper model that’s worth saving. I think people still want to read the news, perhaps more than ever before, so I’m an optimist about my own career choice. Somehow, journalism will survive. It’s printing and circulation that are doomed.