When I was a kid in 1960’s New York City we got the New York Times, and at that time it was way over my head. I thought “All The News That’s Fit to Print” meant everything they could cram on that many pages. And there were no funnies at all. So I accepted the wisdom that it was a high-brow newspaper from the capital city of the world, and I was proud of that status.
Then we moved to San Diego when I entered the 6th grade, and we went through family culture shock that first year. The newspaper was the San Diego Union-Evening Tribune, a Copley newspaper, and to be honest, it was a conservative rag. You resorted to looking at the headlines and local columns such as a zero-spin piece on the Lost and Found Dept at the Del Mar fair, and watched the news to make up for it.
In high school I discovered the Los Angeles Times when my Dad began working there. He would bring me the “Calendar” insert magazine on the Wednesday before the Sunday paper came out, and I would pore over the music articles with rapturous gratitude. I soon realized the LA Times was my favorite paper. It kicked a-- over the SD paper, and it was way friendlier to read than the NY Times, which still seemed too advanced for easy consumption.
After college years came my move to the San Francisco Bay Area, and here we had the SF Chronicle. But on first glance, it seemed like a comic book next to the LA Times. The columns were jokey, and it seemed that was the tone in some of the hard news. So for the most part I stuck with reading the Pink Section to keep up on music.
During my first year in Berkeley I remember this friend of Laura Miller’s discovering I had never heard of Herb Caen at a party and saying, “welcome to the Bay Area” and then explaining who Herb Caen was. I realized the Chron was a real unifier if the college kids were reading it. But I generally avoided all media in my 20’s, partially because my Mom and Dad were Broadcasters and I needed to find my own way once I left home.
My submission to the newspaper came when I moved in with my future wife Adrienne in 1990. She insisted we subscribe to the SF Chron for (what was then) $150/year! Whoa, what for? Is it that good? Wouldn’t Time or Newsweek be cheaper and better? Isn’t that paper kind of lightweight? (I was still a loyal LA Times person, although I rarely saw it anymore).
Well, I agreed and it took about a month, but the bug really bit me. I read a VERY funny bit from Mick LaSalle interviewing Paul Anka that brought me to my knees. And then I began to see that the news was good, I trusted these guys, and I started taking my political cues from the editorial page which seemed to cut a balance between the extreme views I would hear in Berkeley and a more middle view. They helped me get over my fear that if I veered slightly away from the far left I wouldn’t end up in Santa’s lap and realize it was Rush Limbaugh I was talking to.
The talent at the SF Chron always remained high. Art critic Kenneth Baker is as good a critic as I’ll ever need. He’s a virtuoso writer, and yet he never gives me the cynical creeps I got from some SoCal art critics.
Then my friend Laura Miller started to appear with a few articles, and I felt that bonded connection that comes with coming of age.
After I got acclimated to reading the Chron, my brother-in-law Kevin sent us a long subscription to the Sunday New York Times, and I had my homecoming with my childhood newspaper, finally old enough to enjoy it.
When Herb Caen died in early 1997 I thought it might be the first funeral bells for the SF Chronicle, but they kept bringing in great people, and we stayed loyal. Now they are suffering financially like all newspapers (and the music industry). Recently they made a serious miscalculation and changed the font and format of the whole paper. It’s like New Coke, I don’t know what they did but it feels wrong, and lots of people think so, because we read the letters.
Adrienne and I have been going to our iPhones and the Apple Laptop for more news, not all of it, but the scales are tipping away from the morning kitchen table where the paper sits until dinner time. If newspapers go under, it will be like losing vinyl record albums. We’ll still get content, but that special feeling will be lost, and our kids will never understand what they missed, (and we’ll all feel old trying to explain it to them).
I’m not going to campaign about this too much. The way I see it, this tide is way too big for me to change a thing.
But it will be sad if we lose newspapers forever.