On Reading Newspapers

One of my New Year’s “resolutions” — I’m using quotation marks because I don’t know if I’m going to keep this one — has been to read the newspaper more.

Sure, I thought, print newspapers are dying, but I’m going to do my part to save them. After all, I was raised in a newspaper house (even if my father is out of town, he’ll make a point of getting a paper) and I used write for newspapers, so the resolution seemed reasonable.

But it ain’t easy. You want to know why? It’s Burke’s Unending Conversation metaphor:

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

Newspapers are the party. It’s hard to get into the conversations and most of us don’t want to stick around long enough to engage in them.

Meanwhile, while everyone’s talking around us, we’re on Facebook asking everyone else what party they’re at and tweeting about how hard it is to understand.

Then we go watch a movie.

Reading the newspaper takes time, not just out of your day but an investment over weeks. People either make the investment or don’t or can’t.

I’m still deciding which category is mine.

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