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December 13, 2008

No More Daily Newspaper in Detroit?

It's not exactly official yet (yes it is — see update below), but this announcement is all over the internet right now:

DETROIT (AP) -- The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press are leaning toward cutting home delivery to three days a week, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

I know it's inevitable — because the print business model is changing, because news consumption habits are changing, because Michigan's economy is in really, really rough shape — but this news makes me sad.

16757 I first learned to love journalism as a kid growing up in East Detroit, Michigan. There were two daily papers in town — the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. We always subscribed to the News, which came out in the afternoon. Every day when I'd get home from school, I'd wait for the paperboy or papergirl to come and leave the newspaper in the curved metal rack beneath our mailbox. It was part of my daily ritual. (This is a picture of my house before my parents sold it a couple years ago — just for the heck of it. You can see the black mailbox on the porch there.)

I read the Detroit News every day, starting from the time I was about 8 or 9, until I left to go to college. I loved opening that newspaper and finding out what was going on. If I missed a day, it felt like I had missed something important — that Burlington Free Press slogan, "miss a day, miss a lot," really applied to how I felt about my daily hometown newspaper.

But times have changed. My loyalties have shifted. When I want the latest news, I look online. I check the Burlington Free Press website several times a day; I canceled my print subscription a couple years ago. But I'm not on their site looking for national news, the same way I looked at the Detroit News for the latest national and international updates — I'm reading strictly local stuff. When I want to know what's happening nationally, I check a series of blogs and news sites — and my Google alerts, and my Facebook news feed. (Needless to say, I don't have to check Seven Days because I'm already intimately familiar with every piece of content we publish, in print and online.)

The days of bringing in the daily newspaper have been over for me for a long time. And now it looks like they're over for my relatives, friends and former Michigander neighbors, like it or not.

The next big milestone for me will be when they stop printing the Sunday New York Times. I still get that delivered, and I will be sad, sad, sad if — when? sigh... — that beloved ritual comes to an end.

UPDATE 12/18: At the end of March, the News and Free Press will cut home delivery on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. Ouch. Here's a story from the NYT.

And worse news for Motown — Chrysler is shutting down all of its factories for a least a month. Yikes.

Hard to know how it's all going to play out for newspapers, eh Cathy? I've been reading one or more newspapers daily since I started my first paper route in 2nd grade... quick math... on the order of 15,000 issues read... yikes!

I tried to switch to the Free Press online for a couple weeks last summer... couldn't stick with it. All you get are the "big" stories, and none of the little brief bits about car wrecks and fundraisers that tell an important part of our community's story. Sports, comics, obits, ads, etc... I've got to go elsewhere or hunt around for much of what is easily available in the print version.

Clearly we're moving away from paper newspapers and there are many upsides to this, but the online daily reader experience still lags far behind the hundreds-of-years-in-the-making paper one... at least for this reader (and, yes, I use RSS and lots of other online tools and services).

Interesting times ahead.

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