Here’s an unpopular opinion: There is a future in newspapers. I don’t mean newspaper companies. I mean physical, hard-copy newspapers—the kind you buy on the street, the kind someone tosses onto your driveway early in the morning. The kind everybody says will be a thing of the past in a few years.
My conviction on this point stems from a decision I made about a year ago—to subscribe to, as we used to say, the paper. I was reluctant to do this, and for the usual reason: You can read all the newspaper’s content online, either for free or for a smaller subscription price.
For several years, though, I had trouble with online news reading, and I thought maybe it was time for a regressive revolt. I had begun to notice, first, that I remember almost nothing I read online. I must have read scores of online articles in 2016, say, but I can hardly remember one. Yet somehow I can recall things I read in hard-copy newspapers and magazines 20 or 30 years ago; in some cases I can see the words on the page.
I had also begun to feel anxious that, despite all the news reading I do, I was never able to catch up. When you get your news by searching online news aggregators and perusing
you can spend an hour reading articles—two hours, three hours—and still you feel you’ve only read the smallest slice of relevant news. You read and read, but unread stories are still everywhere and you spend the rest of your day feeling anxiously ill-informed.
Newspapers mostly rid you of that anxiety. When you read the paper in the morning, you spend 45 minutes or an hour doing one thing: reading the news. When you put the paper down, assuming you’ve made a decent effort to read and understand a fair sampling of items, you’ve read the news. At that point you can go about your day happy in the knowledge that you have some idea of what sort of things happened in the world yesterday and of what intelligent people think about them.
The newspaper, and especially the serious metropolitan daily, allows you to ingest the news on an array of topics—and be done with it. After spending an hour reading the paper, you’re as caught up on national and world affairs as any person can claim to be. You’re not aware of all the profound and amazing writing “out there,” but you’re sufficiently well-informed, and for the remainder of the day you can apply your mind to other tasks, without anxiety or guilt.
The newspaper brings a kind of epistemological definition to the everyday work of being literate. You can hold the day’s knowledge with two ink-stained hands, and when you’re done with it, you can throw it away. It won’t update and demand to be read in a few hours, and it won’t follow you around on your smartphone.
I don’t know what the future of newspapers may be. But I know there is one—because newspapers are physical and limited, and so are we.
Mr. Swaim is opinion editor of the Weekly Standard.