Nothing replaces a physical newspaper

Today I’m wearing two hats, newspaper writer and newspaper reader. I’ll spend part of my morning as many of you will — reading The Herald.

I have a long-standing and deeply ingrained newspaper habit, and a paid Herald subscription. It’s worth it to me to get it at home, even though I pick up free copies at work or read it online.

Last Sunday, my morning routine was thrown off when I found no Herald on my front porch. I looked in the bushes. I asked my sleepy son if he had the paper, and bugged him later to ask if he thought someone had stolen it.

I learned later that subscribers in my zip code and many others didn’t get the June 16 paper that day because of a press breakdown. These things happen. We’re sorry for that. A notice on our website said “We apologize for the inconvenience this may cause.”

Inconvenience? Not exactly. Rather, when the paper isn’t there it’s just an awful feeling. Something pleasurable and important is missing. The day does not properly begin. Coffee doesn’t taste as good. It’s an addiction, really, and it’s common in my generation.

Growing up in Spokane, we had two daily newspapers delivered to the house.

Although I earn my living in a newsroom, my first thought was of readers — newspaper addicts to the south — when I heard last week about big changes at The Oregonian.

Starting Oct. 1, The Oregonian will be delivered to home subscribers only on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The paper’s initial report Thursday said home delivery would be “Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, and include the Saturday edition as a bonus,” but publisher N. Christian Anderson III clarified in email to the Willamette Week that his paper would be delivered four days a week.

The Portland-based Oregonian will be published seven days and sold daily at newstands. Subscribers will have seven-day access to a new digital edition. For the next two months, that site will be free to all.

Should 170,000 home subscribers expect a price cut in line with the loss of service? The Oregonian isn’t saying so, only that “We are reviewing the pricing and subscription details for deliveries after October 1.”

There are other big changes, too. The Oregonian is owned by Advance Publicatons Inc., a New Jersey company that cut printing days for its Times-Picayune in New Orleans and delivery days for Cleveland’s Plain-Dealer. By Friday, according to news reports, more than 35 reporters, editors and photographers had lost their jobs at The Oregonian, which will be run by a newly formed company, Oregonian Media Group.

As a journalist, I’m keenly interested in all this. As a reader, I just want my newspaper to show up on the porch — every day.

If a paper doesn’t show up, how long will it take for an out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude to replace the habits of daily readers?

That happened to me when Newsweek ceased publication. As a longtime subscriber, I was sent pitches to register my email address with the online version after the print magazine disappeared. I never did that, and I don’t bother reading the digital Newsweek, part of The Daily Beast. I forgot it existed.

I did, however, subscribe to Time, because I have a long habit of reading a weekly news magazine.

There are a few news and information websites I look at almost daily. I read Spokane’s Spokesman-Review online, as well as the Los Angeles Times, Crosscut, HistoryLink and several others. I’m glad they’re there, but reading them feels like work — not something I want to do while eating breakfast.

For the past couple months, Herald readers have had to adjust to changes in the paper. Capacity at our new company’s regional printing facility near Paine Field limits the number of sections The Herald has on some days. We’re all getting used to that.

Last Sunday’s missing Herald reminded me to appreciate our daily paper. As if I needed another reminder, The Oregonian news was chilling.

Oregonian writer Brent Hunsberger’s article about the changes included this tidbit: “many retirement homes will continue to get daily print editions.” Nice, but it’s no comfort to the rest of the readers.

I have news for any business that would equate success with a big cut in service: No thanks.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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