My Beautiful Wickedness

April 24, 2007, 10:42 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

My husband and I enjoy newspapers. We currently get three (thanks to our college subscription program, whereby profs get newspapers for free if the newspaper can peddle itself on our campus): NYT, USA Today, and the local Hearst Corp. paper. I also read international news online (BBC, Irish Times, Le Monde, and El Pais…this morning, I’ve checked in with La Jornada to see what kind of coverage the abortion proposals are getting in Mexico City…I’d love to have some independent media source to go to to check on what’s happening in Nigeria and Zimbabwe, but that’s an impossibility right now). So yeah. We take our news pretty seriously.

I started reading the paper very early. I started reading at the age of two and the paper was a great resource for a kid without a lot of books. New stories every day! My parents encouraged this love of newspapers. My father (who was barely literate) worked his way laboriously through at least part of the paper each day, sounding out the words because he wanted to stay informed as a citizen-voter. We never cancelled our newspaper subscription even when we were subsisting on soupbeans and Dad had been out of work for years.

At that time, I developed my reading habits. I read the comics, then the advice columns, then the “soft news” (fashion, cooking — what was then known as the “pink pages”), then I worked the puzzles. Then I read the front page and went directly from there to the editorial page. I developed my love of the essay from reading editorials. They were all guys — stringers like Mike Royko and Art Buchwald — but they made me care about news. It was a babystep between editorial journalism and the New Journalism that dominated non-fiction writing in the 1970s, so that was an easy transition. My mother casually mentioned that if I liked to write, I might think about going into journalism and so when I wound up as an editorial writer in the 1990s, no one was surprised.

Newspapers have changed. The pictures are more graphic. The stories are more upsetting and violent. Reporters evince a certain perverse glee in lingering on the sordid details. I have to admit that there are days that I dump the papers in the trash before my kid comes home to spare her the big photo essays on this or that killing spree. Still, she’s developing her tastes. I was talking to her this morning about what papers she likes. She says that the NYT is dull — she says the reporting style is too dry and there aren’t enough pictures — and the local paper has good comics. She doesn’t read editorials. And USA Today is best because it has lots of pictures and charts, talks about films she wants to see, and runs photos about Harry Potter. Now I know the target audience of that paper…an eight-year-old girl without cable who likes to read press releases lightly repackaged as news.


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