Dropping the San Francisco Chronicle

23:54 Sun 19 May 2013
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I’ve been a subscriber to the San Francisco Chronicle for almost 13 years, the entire time I’ve lived in the city. I started that subscription because I was used to living in a household where newspapers were a daily staple, and because I wanted to support local journalism. I also felt that major cities should have newspapers and I should thus support the city paper.

And now I’m ending my subscription.

For a long time I read the Chronicle first thing in the morning. But I haven’t been doing that daily for several months. In part this is because they stopped delivering it to my apartment door every morning, leaving it at the front of the building instead. It’s not really much effort to go downstairs to get it, but while I did that at first, the habit slowly faded.

In a way, the delivery change mirrored how I gave up cable television: I just unplugged the table and waited a month to see whether or not I plugged it in again. That minor extra effort was enough to dissuade me from watching television, so I decided I didn’t really need it and halted the service, and have rarely regretted that since[1]. By making me go downstairs to get the paper, the Chronicle pushed me to figure out that I didn’t care enough to do so, which led me to question paying for it.

Another reason is that I’ve been slowly weaning myself off news for the last few years. I’ve stopped regularly reading most general news coverage. This recent article summarizes a number of the reasons for this: “News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier”. I’m not away from it entirely, and still get plenty of it from social media and from some of my narrow-interest sources—which I should perhaps also cut down on reading. That desire to cut down on consuming news generally pushed me to reconsider my fading morning newspaper habit.

I’m not sure my personal shift away from general news is all psychologically positive. I’m definitely reading a narrower range of sites, with the exceptions coming from friend recommendations—making me more subject to confirmation bias and, to a lesser extent, groupthink. However, it does seem healthy to stop consuming information about things entirely beyond your control—or at least to think more carefully about what state of mind those things should be addressed in.

I like some of the columnists for the Chronicle, particularly Jon Carroll, Mark Morford, and James Temple. But I don’t read their columns regularly anymore even when they’re in the paper right in front of me. This may be temporary, and I’d like to read them more often, but again, if I’m not reading my favorite columnists, why am I getting the paper?

Going in the other direction, I’ve long hated the work of C. W. Nevius, and could usually tell what side of a dispute I would be on simply by taking the opposite side from him. That was a mostly-low level annoyance, but it would occasionally rise into more than that—and for all the benefits of encountering views different to your own, I don’t need to be pushed into anger early in the morning. While my drift away from the Chronicle was probably inevitable, it was definitely helped along by seeing this opening line of his in the paper a few weeks ago (04 May 2013):

“Of all complaints about life in San Francisco, graffiti is near the top of the list.”

Given the problems this city has, that’s a ludicrous statement. If you’re not socially conscious of the homelessness and the inequality, then your list is much more likely to include complaints about parking, long lines for everything, insane rents, public transport—I have a hard time putting graffiti anywhere on the list, never mind near the top. The spike of incredulity followed by outrage I experienced upon seeing that prominently in the paper (I wouldn’t have read even that much of his column on purpose) helped prompt questions about what reading it might be doing for my mental state.

When I was reading the paper first thing, my habit was to start with the Daily Jumble anagram game, and then read the comics—some of which I’ve been reading for years—as my start-of-the-day ritual before going on to other things in the paper. Now, because I wasn’t doing that, I was instead just going online. So I would read social media feeds first, and then the shrinking list of sites that I follow daily—a majority of which seem to involve injustice, police brutality, and prosecutorial misconduct. The items coming from social media weren’t guaranteed to be any less depressing than those, but those habits were, again, putting me into an often negative state of mind soon after waking.

I wanted to do something about that, but still didn’t resume getting the physical paper. Instead, I started playing Jumble online[2], and reading the comics online[3], and in addition adding a search for a Roger Federer highlights video[4] as part of that routine because that almost always cheers me up.

This conscious thought about how I should start my day, and those decisions, reminded me that I wasn’t actually reading the paper, and that the issues were just piling up in my recycling.

I still care about journalism, but I don’t know what to do about that. I feel as if it’s happening more and more online anyway, and that trying to keep it alive within the current institutions is a losing effort. On top of that, many of those institutions are deeply compromised (and have been for years). I didn’t see a lot of evidence of hard-hitting, excellent journalism in the San Francisco Chronicle, and felt that with my subscription I was tacitly supporting conservative[5]/mainstream politics, which I wasn’t comfortable with at all.

I’ve been reading everything else online, and the Internet has been my primary news source for over a decade. The obsolescence of the newspaper is becoming more and more obvious. I don’t know how they’ll evolve or what the replacements—if any—will be. I don’t think they’ll simply die, but they will have to change a great deal, particularly as their readership gets older and there are more people for whom the notion of a physical paper isn’t natural at all.

It’s tough to do great work, particularly difficult journalism requiring research and time and effort, without financial backing, and it’s not clear how good journalism—particularly investigative journalism—is going to get that in the future. I hope some model can be found to support it.

I may change my mind, or compromise by resuming Sunday service—but I doubt it. For now, good-bye to the San Francisco Chronicle.

[1] And when I haven’t it’s been for live sporting events lacking good online feeds, and those are both relatively rare and not necessarily on television channels I would have had access to anyway.

[2] Which isn’t as challenging as the paper version, because I play the paper version without writing anything down. I suppose I should do the online version without typing, and only fill out the answers once I have all of them—but it’s harder to exercise that restraint online.

[3] Meaning more or less exactly the comics I read in the paper—Doonesbury, The Knight Life, Candorville, Sherman’s Lagoon, Blondie, Mutts, Get Fuzzy, Peanuts, Liō, Non Sequitur, Pearls Before Swine, and Dilbert—and not any of the various webcomics that I follow, which I read at different times.

[4] Such as “Roger Federer – Top 10 ridiculous Improvisations (HD)”, which you should watch regardless of your interest level in tennis, because the combination of artistry and athleticism on display is amazing.

[5] By which I don’t really mean “right-wing” in the common sense so much as just “supportive of the status quo”.

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One Response to “Dropping the San Francisco Chronicle

  1. jeffliveshere Says:

    It’s so funny–I distinctly remember the graffitti headline, and thought to myself, “you have got to be kidding me”.

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