On to the next course: Metro. That got four minutes. Read to the jump of a section-front story about a fifteen-year-old boy killed in a gun battle, sped through an obit for Bruce Wasserstein, the Wall Street dealmaker, and glanced, as I always do, at the photos in the paid obits. I frowned at the weather page. It’s printed so small it’s useless, a sure sign I am getting older. (Apparently, others felt the same way, prompting Post editors to restore the weather info to its former, larger footprint. It had gotten squeezed in a recent redesign.)
Style and Sports got four minutes each. Style often has a long feature that catches my attention, but not today. Sports had a column by one of my favorites, Thomas Boswell, so I was miffed that I had to rush. Lucky for me, my other favorite sports columnist, Tracee Hamilton, wasn’t writing that day. Home and the District Extra got three minutes apiece.
Despite feeling like I’d run through the Post at a sprint, I had only three minutes left of my thirty-nine-minute allotment. I skimmed headlines in The Wall Street Journal, taking mental notes on a few stories I wanted to go back to. That took four minutes. I was already over time and hadn’t even looked at New York Times. Well, I couldn’t help myself. I speed-read my way through in fifteen minutes, feeling wholly unsatisfied and defeated. How do people do this?, I wondered.
On October 16, a much better newspaper day, I gave myself no time limit. I started the Post at 8 a.m. and finished one hour and seventeen minutes later. I polished the other two papers off in an additional hour, skipping their versions of stories I’d already read and concentrating on their enterprise offerings. I felt informed, entertained, and in touch. In celebration, I attempted New York Timescrossword right then, instead of waiting until after dinner.
My experience leaves me in a quandary about the future of newspapers. I believe in mass-market, big-city journalism; it’s what I grew up in, both at New York Newsday and at The Washington Post. It’s all that I know. But few people have the time to really experience the wonders of a newspaper. You have to commit to it, to devote the time, which gets harder and harder to do in our fractured, distracted, multimedia world.
The only future I can see clearly is one in which newspapers cater to their loyal core. In my future they serve up superior journalism and charge readers the full freight, no longer relying so heavily on advertisers that are deserting in droves. If people pay more, perhaps they’ll place a higher value on what’s delivered, and spend more time with it. There is a market—I hope, I pray—and I’ll bet it’s larger than just me.