The End Of The Paper Chase?

Lawyer Andrew Cohen analyzes legal affairs for CBS News and CBSNews.com.
(CBS/iStockphoto)
I did something last week I never thought I would do. I cancelled my newspaper subscriptions—three in all—and now receive no print dailies at home. I did this because I realized over the past year that not only were my local newspapers atrocious—full of advertisements and tiny syndicated columns—I was getting all the news I need (and perhaps more) online.

Clearly, as any studyof newspaper readership will inform, I am not the first devoted print junkie to switch to the new medium. Nor will I be the last. I still understand the purpose of a newspaper in a big city like New York, when so many people spend so much time commuting to and from work on a train or subway. But as for the rest of us here in mainland America? Why wait until the morning for a lesser product? Why kill all those trees and then hassle with recycling? Why subsidize a method of communication that has had a great, long run but whose time has gone?

Why, indeed. The Web's the thing. I know this not only as a passionate online consumer of news but also as a modest "supplier" for the seemingly insatiable demand for online opinion. Write a column in a local newspaper and if you are lucky in a few days a few hundred thousand people might have at least the opportunity to read your stuff. Write a column for CBSNews.com or the washingtonpost.com and immediately billions of people have that sort of opportunity. Really, truly, if given the choice and you couldn't do both, where would you rather write as 2007 turns into 2008?

Me? Growing up and as a baby journalist all I wanted to be was an op-ed columnist at a major paper. For me, that position, the position of Walter Lippmannand Russell Baker and William Safire, was the crowning heights of journalism. I imagined great men and women opening up their morning papers and reading my words. But today I'm perfectly happy knowing that readers with handhelds can theoretically come across my stuff at airports, in restaurants and anywhere else people have a few moments to kill.

When I write online I can almost immediately get reader feedback, for better or worse. When I write in print it takes days. When I write online I can link to a vast world of secondary material. When I write in print I can't even use footnotes. Speaking of which, someone famous once likened footnotes in a book to having to run down and answer the door while you are having sex with your spouse. No more. The footnote has morphed into the hyperlink, Praise Be to the AP Stylebook.

I know that most newspapers place online almost everything they print on paper. So I don't really have to choose between print or online venues. But print truly is dead. Newspapers as we know them won't last our lifetimes and online news is only beginning to tap into its vast potential. In fact, even if Lippmann himself were alive today I am quite sure the Post would splay him all over the Internet and the grumpy guy might even be doing web-chats.

I am sad to be losing a daily ritual—opening up the door, walking outside, unwrapping the paper, checking out the front page, all of it. It's been a part of my life for 30 years, going back to the Montreal Starof the 1970s. But change is good, right? Right. You can look it up.



  • Andrew Cohen

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