Making some sense of experiencing the newspaper

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My Sunday paper arrived on time but a little on the soggy side the other morning.

Not that it was my carrier's fault. He or she had plastic-bagged the paper and tossed it onto my driveway in the wee small hours of a drizzly morning. Unfortunately, the paper landed at the edge of the concrete, in a low spot where rainwater typically collects before making its escape via what's left of the gutter along Hilltop Lane.

Pulling the soaked newspaper apart section by soggy section, I draped them over the sink, countertop, microwave and anywhere else where moisture wouldn't harm the surface. Heck, I might have had better luck wringing out my Sunday Star like a ShamWow!

Resisting the notion of squishing the whole mess together into some sort of papier-mache glob, I pressed on, employing a hairdryer and a hatful of patience. After all, enjoying the Sunday paper is usually one of the most comforting and peaceful moments of my week. Still, more than my spirits were dampened.

Yet that maddening and musty moisture content served to underscore what a true sensory experience reading the newspaper can be, even in today's online, Twitter-filled iPad world.

Sight, touch and smell certainly. Taste if you're really adventurous, and hearing, too, if you're into reading aloud or love that sound of rustling newsprint.

Experiencing how the story looks and where and how it's placed in the grand scheme of things that becomes a daily newspaper is something I miss in reading "the paper" online. Yes, I do regularly look at The Chicago Tribune, Terre Haute Trib-Star and Indianapolis Star among others online.

But along the way I certainly miss that distinctively sentimental smell of newsprint (perhaps second only to the intoxicating scent of leather a new bomber jacket or baseball glove can bring me).

And unless you feel pointing and clicking can be a sensual experience, the sense of touch is also lost in the online experience. Granted, you won't get your hands dirty from printer's ink, but to me that's always been an inherent byproduct of the joint newspaper experience.

It's like devouring a plate of barbecued ribs. If you can do that without getting sauce on your fingers and chin, you're not plunging in headfirst and getting the whole experience. You might as well cut the meat off the bone, grind it up and serve it paté-style on a cracker. Where's the taste sensation in that?

Holding that newspaper (preferably a dry one), eyeballing it in a quick once over and deciding where to start is an experience as well. What to read first? Where to turn? Who's on first?

It's all part of the varied purposes a newspaper serves -- to educate, to inform, to entertain, to separate fact from fiction and to document and record the life of our community, our state, our country and our world.

Some regulars read from back to front. Some head right for the comics or the sports first. Crossword regulars generally tackle the puzzle before even reading the news. Others dive into the classifieds in search of a bargain or a job lead. Such simple pleasures can be lost when we read it online, often in the name of speed and convenience.

Within the past week we did a story detailing statistics from our own website, revealing what stories were read the most by Banner Graphic online visitors.

The results were as intriguing as they were impressive. A couple of crime stories topped 10,000 views, essentially meaning that someone in almost every local household clicked on those stories sometime the day they were printed.

While they couldn't touch it, feel it or sniff it, it didn't matter. They soaked it up and squeezed every bit of news out of those online posts.

And you know, not once did they have to wring the water out of it.

Hmm, maybe this online thing just might catch on after all ...