After more than 20 years of subscribing to The New York Times, I’ve finally faced reality and canceled home delivery of the print edition and moved exclusively to an all-access digital pass. Truth is, it’s been years since I’ve regularly read The New York Times—or The Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post, for that matter—in print, at least. In fact, I’ve spent the past four or five years methodically suspending my home delivery and simply reading the Times on my iPhone, tablet or laptop.
When I mentioned to some Millennial colleagues that I finally gave up reading The New York Times in print in favor of reading it in digital formats, their reactions ranged from, “What took you so long?” to “BuzzFeed is better than the Times, LOL!” to “There’s a print version?” Indeed, it seems as if I’m one of the last of my cohorts to give up the ghost on print media. Having spent the early part of my career working at print magazines, I’d been a longtime advocate and fan of the printed page. Apparently, my reading habits were more akin to a 65-year-old, college-educated matron than a Gen Xer who works in new media and tech. Whomp whomp.
Depending on who you believe, Millennials are still totally into newspapers or only the olds read newspapers, obvs. If my daily commute into the city is any indicator, nobody seems to be reading printed newspapers nowadays. A few years ago, the morning rush-hour train would reliably be awash with (admittedly mostly older-than-30-year-old) commuters flipping through newspapers. This morning, I counted just one person on the train with a printed newspaper, but he looked like a Millennial hipster who was reading the Life section of USA Today ironically. Everyone else was held captive by the content on the tiny and some not-so-tiny screens in front of them. Instead of the rustle of newsprint, the only sounds to be heard on the quiet car these days are the barely audible clicks of smartphone keyboards and home screen buttons.
While there’s no denying that newspaper readership, circulation and revenue have been on a steady decline for many years, the debate over who’s to blame for the death of printed newspapers seems to rage on. Aging and dying newspaper readers aside, it’s easy to point judge-y, old-people fingers at digitally native Millennials—who have eschewed ink for bits—as the main accelerators of print’s demise. But advertisers, too, can be blamed as their investment and spending in digital platforms haven’t kept pace with the rapid migration of readers from print to digital.
The transformation of the media landscape has been compounded by the transformation of the relative size and kinds of information that consumers of all generations seem to want these days. In our Snapchat, short-attention-span world, why would any of us want to sort through a standard lede and nut graf when we can watch hilarious videos of cats playing pianos or scroll through a photo-driven listicle of Caitlyn Jenner’s most glamorous looks, amirite? I’m not saying that we might have gotten a little bit stupider over time, I’m just sayin’.
As a graduate student in 1994, subscribing to the Gray Lady was a rite of passage that felt like one of the first adult things that I did. But everyone knows that adulting is hard, especially when you’re lugging around an ancient artifact like a printed newspaper under your arm, so giving up on printed newspapers might be the most grownup thing that I’ve done in a long time.