Cancel My Subscription!…Well, Not Just Yet

The newspapers are piled up on my coffee table, some still snug in the sleeve of plastic they came in. I drop today’s paper on the stack and it slides off the pile, onto the floor.

I’m one of the few, the proud, the stubborn. I’m among the last of my generation who still gets the newspaper delivered to my door in paper and ink.

This was actually one of the things that excited me about moving to Chicago in the winter of 2012 – I could wake up each morning, stumble to my door, and grab the Chicago Tribune off the sidewalk. I grew up five hours north of the city, but the Trib was my paper.

It was my paper because it was my grandmother’s paper, even 25 years after she moved from the city to Egg Harbor. She still had it delivered every day. Like so many Chicagoans, even those who never returned to its pot-holed streets, her ties to her city were never severed. It was still home, still a part of her, two decades after last setting foot on its sidewalks.

She began saving the sports page for me when I was 10, and I devoured it. Few things disappointed me more than getting off the school bus, rushing into my grandmother’s house, and seeing an empty space on the footstool where the paper waited for me. Some days – many days – it just didn’t make it on time. Grandma shook her head and hummed a harrumph of disgust.

When it came, I poured over the box scores, clipped the photos, and ate up the game recaps. Bob Verdi, Jerome Holtzman, Bernie Lincicome, Sam Smith and Jerome Holtzman were the voices in my head. We didn’t have cable television, and the Wisconsin sports sections of the day didn’t compare. From a small town of 200, I viewed the sports world through the lens of Chicago.

On those long days when my ride home was late and grandma was already in bed, I would dive into the Chicago high school scene and the words of Barry Temkin. Soon I could tell you more about city hoops legends like Rashard Griffith, Ronnie Fields and Kevin Garnett than I could about any player in Door County.

Eventually my eyes wandered beyond the sports page to the columns of Bob Greene, then Mike Royko in his final years. Their columns made me think about writing beyond the world of game recaps, analysis, and MVP debates – the world that mattered. This is what I wanted to do, to put words under the big blue Tribune masthead.

So when I finally moved here, one of the first things I did was to subscribe to the Tribune, even if it is just a shell of that paper I grew up with.

Then the papers began to pile up.

I still devour news, but I do it on my phone throughout the day, keeping tabs on Twitter, websites, emails. When I get home, I open my computer and read some more, the paper sitting on the table in front of me, neglected.

Yet I feel guilty when I don’t get to it, like neglecting a pet, which is why they sometimes stack up a week at a time before I give in, throwing them in the recycling bin having read only a third of them. Sometimes less. Ten-year-old me would seethe at my waste.

But each time I reach the verge of canceling my subscription, I open up a paper and am struck by a photo, a headline, a news story I wouldn’t see anywhere else. Stories without a click-bait headline forced into my day by a Facebook or Google algorithm that calculated that my search for an Italian Sausage stand and regular checks of mean I’d love a story about “14 athletes whose faces look like Italian sausages.”

Google, Facebook, Twitter and teams of engineers have perfected the art of exposing us only to those friends, ads and the news that we’re pre-disposed to like. This is the overlooked tragedy of the death of print. It’s not just the dumbing down of reporting, or the lack of patience for the type of journalism that digs deep into our greatest problems, but rather our exposure to ideas not voiced within our own choir. We’re not reading contrary ideas we don’t want to hear, seeing images we don’t want to see, or stumbling into topics we would never seek out.

That’s why, even as the newspapers pile up in my apartment, I can’t bring myself to cancel my subscription. Every time I open the pages I learn something I didn’t know about my city – the story behind a west side shooting, the old couple squeaking out a living from the dive on North Elston, the absurdity of the city’s parking meter contract. There are scores of Chicago blogs online now, but the paper remains the connection that makes me feel a part of the larger city, not just my own narrow interests or neighborhood.

When I take the time to read the paper I’m always happy I did, even if John Kass can’t hold a candle to Royko, even if the sports section is old news by the time it arrives at my door. They still pile up, and when the bill comes due in a couple of weeks, I’ll consider canceling again.

But I won’t, because I still haven’t found another way to stay connected to all the things I never knew I wanted to know.