My Personal Media Diet

A month ago I opened a bill from my local newspaper to discover the yearly subscription had increased to just over $200. Something about seeing the number two in front of the zeros made me pause. I’ve been a long-time newspaper subscriber, and I believe in the importance of local media. I went to journalism school, so they pounded the importance of a free press into my brain. But something happened when I opened my checkbook to pay the bill. I thought to myself, “Is getting the newspaper delivered to my door really worth $200?”

Oftentimes, the newspaper lay unread for days by my couch – the victim of a working mom’s busy life. More than once, picking up the newspaper to scan the day’s events felt more like another chore, along with wrestling two children out of bed to get them to school on time and folding yesterday’s pile of laundry. I am living in the rush hour of life. I do not need another obligation, another thing on my “To Do” list.

So I did something radical. I stopped my 21-year subscription.

When I did it, part of me wondered if the newspaper would look at my account and say, “Oh, don’t go! Come back! We love you. We’ll miss you. We’ll give you a huge discount if you stay.” And, I admit, I would have been tempted. Because I believe in local newspapers. I really do.

They did offer me a $10 discount when I called to cancel. And I went, “Meh.”

I thought I would be sad. I thought I would miss the smell of ink on paper. I thought I’d be lost without the comics and the editorials and Dear Abby and movie reviews.

But I haven’t. I’ve scanned a few headlines on my phone. I’ve read a few more blogs. I’ve got more room in my recycling bin. But I haven’t really missed getting the news delivered to my front door.

On one level, this disturbs me. Because if a die-hard newsy chick like me can break her newspaper habit so quickly, it shows me the business model of newspapers today is severely flawed.

What does that mean? I haven’t figured it out yet. But I’m pretty sure it’s not good for my friends in the newspaper business. Or, for that matter, the media in general.

There’s been another effect that I didn’t anticipate. I’m a lot less anxious without my newspaper. It turns out that the short snippets about crime, child abuse, drownings, car accidents and animal mistreatment were affecting me in a way I didn’t completely understand. It turns out that ignorance is bliss sometimes.

It’s not that I want to be uninformed. But the truth is even though I love media, the state of media today is so corrupt by the need to sell advertising or fulfill an agenda, many of the stories are poorly done and half-assed. It is very Culture of Fear. And I am happier and calmer and less anxious without it.

As a former journalist, I understand the pressures of media writing and “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality. I also worked for trade journals, and I understand the role advertising plays in what you read on the page. More than once, we published what the owners of the magazine wanted us to print. The influence of people with a lot of money and power is not insignificant. And I think it’s getting a lot worse.

There must be a middle ground between staying informed about important issues and not falling prey to the fallacies of today’s media. I’m not sure what it is yet. But I’m looking for it.

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