If You Love Newspapers, Let Them Go

A handy guide to kicking your dead tree habit

Newspaper. Personally, I never touch the stuff. But rumor has it there is a certain amount of distress about the impending doom of the news-on-dead-tree industry.

Here at Reason, our “News You Can Use” stories tend toward subjects like what to use as a bong when the Feds close down your neighborhood head shop, but yesterday I put our crack team of summer interns, Jesse Kline and Robby Soave, on the case of what to do after the last print run of the last newspaper ends. Our goal was twofold: 1) selfless public service journalism, and 2) selfish desire to ease the glide into a marvelous digital future.

We assumed for the sake of the experiment that The New York Times would be the last to go. Since I refuse to sully my delicate hands with filthy newsprint, Jesse and Robby paged through Wednesday’s edition in search of facts and insights that would need replacing in the event that print news goes kaput. Below is a sampling of sites you might want to include in your RSS reader or browser bookmark list, to get ready for the time when newspaper is no more. Dead tree diehards should think of the suggestions below as a stockpile of digital canned food for when the newsprint apocalypse occurs.

The experiment hit its first hurdle—and the first reminder of why newspapers aren’t doing so well—when Robby found himself quarter-less in the big city. A purchase of a Mountain Dew from a handy roadside vendor only yielded four quarters, falling short of the eight needed to extract a paper from a vending machine. Further searching led him to a Starbucks, where he could have read anything in the world online (for free!). But he chose to spend his $2 (well, my $2) on a newspaper anyway and diligently brought it back to the office.

Here’s what they found, in print and online:

Front Section: The front page contained highlights from yesterday’s World Cup game, news of General McChrystal’s impending spanking at the White House, the British budget, and the Times Square Bomber. We were pretty sure there were better places to find this information. ESPN.com is a good place to start for pre-chewed sports news—with greater detail, accuracy, and linkable stats than the paper version of the Times—but those who are serious about soccer will probably want to check out FIFA’s site as well. McChrystal gossip and news are available minute-to-minute at Politico. Real time links to relevant political news sources can also be grabbed from breitbart.com.

Numerous pages inside the A section were dominated by oil spill news. Times reporting and analysis is good, but why stop there? Go to Oilaholic, where oil spill news, tweets, blog posts, video, and maps are aggregated for your consumption. Furthermore, a Times report on the progress of the Census could be replaced by head-counting obsessive blog MyTwoCensus.

Want to know if any famous people kicked the bucket recently? Why not go to Wikipedia, which maintains a well organized list of dead celebrities, sometime beating the families of the deceased to the announcement. You might also want to try Hollywood Memoir, which can sort based on cause of death, and has lists for less well-known celebrities. You can also search people's names and find out if they’ve died at Legacy.com. Finally, you can view the obituaries of every newspaper in the country at Obituaries.com.

As for the Opinion pages, Reason should meet your needs there. But if you must, it could be supplemented with the columns aggregated at RealClearPolitics, or you could enjoy a firehose of opinion at Huffington Post or Daily Kos. Want to come back over and over to a name you trust? Hit up brand name bloggers like Glenn Reynolds, Matt Yglesias, Megan McArdle, and more.

Business: Perhaps the saddest page of the Grey Lady, B2, is a list of links where you can go to find actual breaking news, which you would have to manually type in while holding your paper edition in front of you at the computer. Stock quotes, frozen in time and presented in a non-interactive format are improved upon at online finance sites like Yahoo! Finance, which would also be a better source for information like “China’s Currency Falls, a Day After Gain.” Interested in what’s going on in the world of advertising? Don’t settle for one print story about how diaper companies are advertising to dads on TV. Check out Advertising Age or AdWeek, where you might actually be able to watch the ad. Get the weather at weather.com.

New York real estate obsessives have long since left the Times behind, preferring to haunt sites, like Curbed NY, which combine development news with for-sale ads, trend stories, and gossip—sortable by relevant neighborhoods. Apple has a new phone out and the Times tech reviewer, appropriately enough, senses his own irrelevance: “This is where you’d expect to find a review.... But honestly—what’s the point?” he asks. “The public seems to be perfectly capable of sniffing out a winner without the help of tech critics.” That’s true, thanks in part to the flood of information geeks already have about the device from dedicated feeds at sites like Engadget, Slashdot, and CNet.

Sports: Weirdly hiding in the back of the Business section, the whole sports page can be replaced by ESPN, or relevant fan/league sites for the sport of your choice. Want brand-name sports writers? Check out Will Leitch or Bill Simmons.

Arts: For long form semi- or wholly pretentious writing of the best kind, you won’t do better than Arts & Letters Daily for the essays everyone is, or should be, talking about. Wondering about Tuesday’s lackluster Manet auction? For breaking updates on art news, events, sales, collections and the like, visit ArtInfo. To buy, sell, or browse collections and auctions, try Christie’s and Bonhams and Butterfields.

You’ll probably want something to do this weekend. For that, there’s NYC Arts, NYC.com, and Event Guide. Broadwayspace has up-to-date information on shows, actors, and actresses. If you’re feeling stalk-y, you can also try the site’s Twitter page, which tweets celebrity sightings and gossip. Movie times can be found on so many devices, in so many different formats, geared to your specific location, it seems like we’re only a couple of years from getting showtimes beamed directly into our brains, so it’s a little surprising to still find them here in the paper.

Dining: The Internet is overflowing with options for foodies and people who just love to eat. Slashfood is a handy aggregator. Wondering about farms in the Bronx or food co-ops in Brooklyn? How about SeriousEatsNY? Want an intimate look into a New Yorker’s kitchen in the style of Melissa Clark or Mark Bittman? Try the beautiful and useful blog Smitten Kitchen.

Ads: Even the advertisements are replaceable, if that’s your bag. Sign up for DealCatcher to get coupons like those in the paper’s Macy’s and Lord & Taylor full page ads.

A final note to bathroom readers: We’re well past the era of the desktop or even the clunky laptop. If you’re sticking with the print edition because you need something to read during your morning constitutional, look into an iPhone and get out of the 20th century.

The list of links above demonstrate that life would go on, perhaps even slightly improved, if The New York Times stopped printing tomorrow. It may be that the best replacement for the paper edition of The New York Times is, in fact, nytimes.com. After all, those guys are pretty good at assembling news and writing it up. But as far as the print edition goes—sometimes when you love something, you have to let it go.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a senior editor at Reason magazine. Jesse Kline and Robby Soave are 2010 summer interns at Reason magazine. This column first appeared at Reason.com.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is Managing Editor, Reason







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