My Vanishing Newspaper

After checking the driveway, the snow, and the front and rear doors in search of our newspaper, I once again called The New York Times, this time asking to talk to a supervisor.

I got transferred to Ebony, a manager in "account resolutions." She had no resolution to offer.

Why, I asked her, have I not gotten my daily newspaper delivered four of the last six days? I live on the main road of Lexington, Mass., and we hadn't even had a big snowstorm.

She was, of course, apologetic. The Times, she said, has had difficulty organizing its delivery routes since hiring a new Boston distributor at the start of the new year.

"Sometimes the paper is not delivered at all," she acknowledged. "Sometimes it's delivered late. We are still working on a daily basis to get our routes covered."

The venerable and national New York Times? After four weeks? But then, I already knew that.

I also knew I hadn't gotten three of my last four Sunday Boston Globes since it and The Times broke up their shared distribution system.

It's been frustrating.

For more than four decades, Kathy and I have gotten into spirited discussions (and occasional arguments) over the morning newspaper. It's part of our daily lives. These days, it is something of a miracle to get a paper at all.

Talking to Ebony Tuesday didn't help. The Times never appeared Wednesday or Friday. Thursday, on the other hand, it landed squarely on our doorstep. The Globe, meanwhile, which we now get Thursday through Sunday, didn't show up on Thursday. But the delivery guy dropped off the paper Friday just before 9 a.m. - three hours late.

Go figure.

I teach journalism. I'm a former newspaper editor. And I read a slew of news online.
Still, to me reading bits and bytes on a screen isn't an adequate substitute for a newspaper in hand. Reading online is a solitary activity. It doesn't prompt discussion. Nor does it provide the satisfaction of turning pages and finding surprises tucked inside. For me, It never has and it never will, just as my students can't figure out what ungodly pleasure I get out of unfolding mounds of paper when I can just look at a smart phone.

This week I've come to wonder whether the debate is even worth having anymore. American newspapers -- even the two good ones I've gotten for a long time - seem to be slipping into a coma they just may not survive. My last month's experience suggests that their business side is either so moribund or so lackadaisical that I can only surmise the publishers don't much care whether they sell their product or not. Or, to look through a more cynical lens, perhaps they are intentionally killing off their remaining print subscriptions so that everyone will have to buy the news online.

What a shame. Because digital news shortchanges us in other ways.

Today its value is increasingly being measured by the most hits, just as Facebook posts are measured by the most likes. Yes, the digital universe allows us to get any news headline almost instantaneously. But at the same time we seem less and less able to distinguish what's important and what's not, what's true and what's a lie. In many ways that is best exemplified by the rise of Donald Trump, a stick figure of narcissistic self-aggrandizement, a peddler in lies and shallow statements whom the news media to a large extent have created with their incessant coverage.

Mind you. There is still plenty of news - about the Zika virus and ISIS, new research in schizophrenia and new reports on climate change, local crime and offbeat features, interesting trends and off-the-news profiles -- that I like to read.

In print. On a daily basis.

That's why today, I called another supervisor at The Times, Kimberly, who told me she would kick my case all the way up to the regional manager.

I've also enlisted two veteran Globe reporters to help me get my paper (things have gotten so bad that the editorial staff in some cases has physically delivered the paper and continues to help readers sort delivery problems).

So I'm betting I'll get both papers this Sunday.

Or maybe not. An hour ago I got my monthly Globe bill and it credits me for none of three papers I reported missing. That's a pretty neat trick, charging for nothing.

"I feel like we live in a third world country," Kathy said this morning when we once again checked back door and front in search of the morning paper. "I also feel like everyone wants us to go digital."

When we do we'll undoubtedly get much more - of the same news. Maybe it's time to read more fiction.