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Stop Press!

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on September 7, 2008 No Comment

As an (unassigned) experiment for a class I am taking entitled “Writing and Technology,” I decided to forgo reading the New York Times online this week, committing only to reading the paper version. This didn’t really wean me off reading news online: NYT is only one of my news sources: I continued to browse CNN, BBC, the Huffington Post, Google News, and other sites as often as possible. During politically charged hours, I gave in to temptation a couple of times, cheating by doing “Quick Reads” of NYT articles on the Huffington Post, but that was about it. Otherwise, I was forced to engage in an activity that is alien to my Internet-driven existence: I had to wait.

It’s not that I haven’t missed the touch and feel of a newspaper. There is something very magical and sensual about reading the print version of a newspaper usually. I associate it with Darjeeling tea with breakfast in India, since in the last 8 years living abroad, I have never subscribed to one. But growing up in India, reading newspapers was one of the most highly anticipated moments of the day. With a cup of piping hot tea beside me, and toasts (and an occasional poached egg), my day started between 6:00 and 6:30 am. I would pore over the paper, reading everything from the all-too brief world wrap up, national/domestic news, the classifieds (everything from want ads to personals to legal tender notices), the gossip columns (with the endless Bollywood stories), the sports pages splashed mostly with cricket or tennis stories (and the occasional soccer reports). For many of those years, we subscribed to only one newspaper (The Times of India), and my father and I would compete to get up earlier and grab the paper. Whoever got up first got the first page (and the attached last page), getting access to the main headlines and the coveted sports stories. I didn’t usually mind too much: my father is generally a “scanner,” so I wouldn’t have to wait too long to get it, in case he “preempted” me.

At one point in my early teens, there was a big movement in India called “Newspaper in Education,” with the aim of building students’ interests in current events. I had to buy the same newspaper at school as well, but that one went unread: I had scoured the newspaper by the time I got to school. At another point during my teen years, we ended up getting two newspapers every day because of a special promotion going on. This continued when we lived in Goa, where we got a local paper in addition to the national Times. Having two newspapers went a long way in doubling my pleasure as a news aficionado.

Every time I return home, my early mornings are not defined by a mad rush to go online to get the latest news; that follows the ritual of the long, loving time spent with a newspaper. My father and I still compete to get the paper first. 🙂

Today, after leafing through what appeared to be an overwhelming tome rather than a newspaper, I am reverting to the online form, at least in the US. The number of pages in the NYT did not make sense to me; why so many ads? I felt as if I was drowning with information overload (a thing that does NOT only occur to people trying to access information online). Who has the time to work through so many pages, especially with so many ads interspersed throughout? It takes 75,000 trees to make the Sunday edition…what could possibly justify having all these huge, full-page ads? I don’t know if it’s just what seems like a waste to me (given that I, at least, can save a tree or two by not necessitating the publication of a copy, since I have online access) or that it simply doesn’t work for me here in the US, where it doesn’t always accompany breakfast, and does not have ritualistic significance for me (is it the paper? or my life here?). Whatever it is, it is nyt.com for me.

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