This is a story about newspapers. Unlike a lot of stories these days about the demise of print, I think this story still has a happy ending because it at least illustrates a continued desire to consume news and support local journalism.
Printed newspapers were a part of my family for a long time. As a kid growing up in Rochester, N.Y., I had a paper route all the way through high school. In deep snow, my dad would drive my brother and me, stacking thick Sunday newspapers in the back of his Jeep so we could make early morning deliveries.
The morning Democrat & Chronicle was a fixture in our house. I went to college and studied journalism and began on a career path that landed me jobs at four publications before I settled in Seattle at the Post-Intelligencer, where I spent 10 years.
My parents, Dick and Kathy Schlosser, still live in Rochester, and to me they had always been the quintessential newspaper subscribers. Married 58 years, they had taken a daily print paper that entire time.
In visits back to Rochester, I witnessed a routine that was as familiar as it had been to me 40 years ago: a pot of coffee brewing in the kitchen and my parents at the table with the newspaper spread out in front of them. I have pictures of my son at their house as a baby, checking out the front page.
My mom and dad — ages 77 and 81 — purchased their first iPads about five or six years ago, and over that time they used them for a variety of tasks and to entertain themselves. But a year ago they stepped into a new digital routine that altered nearly six decades of tradition: they ditched the print newspaper and began reading all of their news on the iPads.
“We make our breakfast, we get our iPads, we hit the app for the D&C, and up it comes,” my mom said of the new morning normal. “And we read the paper.”
Cost was the driving factor in this decision, she said. They were paying up to about $42 a month to get the D&C delivered at home seven days a week. Now they have a digital subscription and pay about $28 a year.
My parents were also unhappy with the reduction in size of the print edition, and felt like they were paying more money for less content over the years. The last time they read a print edition was when they took a special delivery of the Thanksgiving paper. My mom called it a waste of $5 — “it was a lot of paper just for the ads.”
But old print habits died hard. They consume the newspaper digitally in much the same way they did when it was in print. Rather than use the D&C’s website to surf around and find stories worth clicking on, they read an E-Edition of the paper which is laid out just like what’s in print.
They click on arrows to get from page to page, they zoom in and out to enlarge type or photographs. They sometimes follow links to go deeper on a story, or they watch a video. They also get a daily top-5 stories email newsletter that offers updates on things not included in the newspaper.
They used to divide up the paper by sections, and share back and forth. I asked my dad what he misses about print.
“Nothing,” he said. “I like the setup on the iPad better than reading the other. It took a little while to get used to, but once you’ve got it, it’s very simple and you’re both reading the paper at the same time, maybe the same article and you’re able to talk about it.”
The pages are numbered, and when they’re reading something one of them will often make a mention to the other.
“We’ll see a story that we like and think the other should read,” my mom said. “I don’t have to put a big circle around it on the newspaper and give it to him like I used to.”
My mom is a big sharer of what she reads. She was always cutting stuff out to save, or sending print clippings in the mail for us to read. She’s embraced the ability to do that through email or a text message on the iPad.
“Whenever I see something that relates to either one of my sons who lives in Seattle, I like to send it,” she said. “Or a friend that’s far away. There was an article about a bakery that a friend of mine — who lives in Houston — and I used to walk by on our way to grade school. I sent it to her [via email] and she thought that was really neat. She loved it.”
I remember seeing the occasional comic strip stuck to their refrigerator over the years — some version of “Calvin and Hobbes” that my mom found particularly necessary to hold onto and revisit. I asked what she does now if she likes something in the digital funnies.
“If I see a funny comic I can send it to the printer, print it and hang it on my fridge,” she said.
And the other day she had my dad print out a recipe from the E-Edition’s food section. It’s a funny throwback mentality that probably sounds antiquated to a generation that today can ask Alexa to read recipes in the kitchen.
One big change from print to digital for my folks has been their ability to revisit or consume news throughout the day. The morning paper used to end up in the recycling bin before lunchtime and that was it until the next day. Now my mom says they regularly check websites such as CNN, the Seattle P-I and Times, GeekWire and others.
My mom uses the iPad to Google stuff or get movie showtimes. My dad watches YouTube videos about cars or looks up tutorials on how to fix things. They play games and they Facetime with their kids and grandkids.
And they’re digital evangelists, encouraging others on their street to save some money and give it a try. My mom’s sister is on board, and so are a couple friends.
I like seeing my parents, at an age when people can certainly be very set in their ways, embrace some of the things I take for granted as a fully digitized Seattleite. But I also appreciate the pace at which they move and the seemingly outdated items they continue to hold onto.
During our FaceTime call across the country, from my iMac to their iPad, a land line rang in their house and they started an imaginary conversation before even picking it up. “Yes, she’s on her way,” my dad said, headed for a call he knew was for my mom.
And near the front door of their house, a black plastic box still hangs with “NEWSPAPER” stamped on the side. It was on our home when I was a kid, and 20 years ago when my parents moved to a new place, they brought it with them.
I ask if they ever plan to take it down, and my dad said probably not.
“It’s handy if somebody wants to leave us something,” my mom said.
PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES: Mom and dad unplugged: How 10 days with my parents taught me to love the way they use tech