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Letter From The Editor

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Around 6:30 each morning, I go out and pick up the blue bag that contains The Commercial Appeal from my lawn. I go inside, unfold the paper on my kitchen table, pour a cup of coffee, and begin the daily ritual.

I scan the headlines digging into any fresh news I see. I read the nonessential stuff — the pictures of bygone days, the short pieces about world events, the local and national columnists — as well as the important stuff. In sports, I read the main stories, but also I peruse the agate type — the box-scores, tournament leaderboards, hockey scores, who shot a hole-in-one around town.

Then I hit the M section, maybe check out a food story, celebrity news, party pics. I solve the Chess Quiz, trying not to look at the hint. I even read three or four comics every day (I'm a little concerned about Arlo and Janis' son). Two cups of coffee and 25 minutes after I've started, I'm good to go. I don't think I'm alone in this kind of routine.

But readers of the venerable Times-Picayune in New Orleans — as well as daily newspaper readers in Birmingham, Mobile, and Huntsville, Alabama — are about to get hit with a major sea-change. Those papers are switching to a Sunday, Wednesday, Friday schedule. The group's publisher says it's because advertisers don't buy ads the other days of the week.

But news happens every day, and reading the news online is an entirely different process. There's no routine, no rhythm, no agate type, no Arlo & Janis, no local buy-in. Love it or hate it, people are loyal to their hometown paper. They aren't loyal to websites in the same way. And websites — at least, at this point — don't pay the bills of running a news operation.

In some cities — San Francisco, for example — newspapers are dodo birds, nearing extinction. But that's a city where you can pay for parking with your cellphone. In New Orleans, the Times-Picayune has a 60 percent market penetration. It's a local institution. Yet the paper's absentee owners have decreed the profit margins aren't enough to justify publishing daily.

I think it's short-sighted. I think they are destroying their customer base — the very thing they're trying to sell to their advertisers. If you get out of the habit of reading a paper every day, do you care if you miss it on, say, Friday? I don't know, but it seems a risky bet to me.

I do know the idea of sitting in Café du Monde on a steamy morning, sipping coffee and chicory, and scrolling a cellphone screen for the news just doesn't feel right. But maybe I'm a dodo bird.

Bruce VanWyngarden
brucev@memphisflyer.com

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