The Subscription Dilemma

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Author: Sara Felsenstein ’12

Sara Felsenstein '12

I remember one morning as a 10-year-old I was up early, reading a book by the living room window. A black car slowed before our house, the window rolled down and a package was thrust onto our driveway. I paused for a moment before running outside to retrieve the paper, thrilled that I’d actually seen the man who delivers The New York Times. My excitement was a mere step below seeing Santa or the Tooth Fairy. The paper’s magic was still preserved — I didn’t know where exactly they came from — but I was one step closer to solving the mystery.

That was 12 years ago. Twelve years ago, we had barely purchased our first bulky Dell, much less consider taking the morning news from a backlit screen. Twelve years ago, we still had dial-up Internet, woefully barren email inboxes and asked Jeeves instead of Googling.

A lot has changed in 12 years. That’s why my mom recently sat my dad down at the kitchen table to bring up a two-word, volatile phrase in my household: digital subscription.

“Bruce,” she said, “Don’t you think it’s about time we get a digital subscription to The Times?

I knew where this conversation would end even before it started. My dad shook his head and sighed.

“Sally, please. We’ve talked about this. It’s really not that much cheaper. We’re just not getting one.”

My mom protested, laying down her arguments. That we read the news on the NYTimes.com each day, pretty much only reading the physical paper on car trips. That it’s a heck of a lot of recycling and wasted paper for a low percentage of use. That the most functional purpose of the paper at this point is not the paper itself but the blue plastic bag it arrives in, which we collect and use for doggie waste receptacles.

“It’s an unnecessary expense,” my mom argued.

“We’re keeping the subscription,” my dad said, and that was that.

While it wasn’t my place to weigh in on this discussion, partly because I’m not paying for the subscription but mostly because I read news online 95 percent of the time, I was privately relieved at my dad’s decision.

As a member of the digital age, I spend most of my day working and socializing in the online sphere. But with The Times, I wasn’t ready to go digital. Somehow, making my life both wireless and paperless feels less like moving forward and more like giving in.

I tried to determine why I am so attached to print newspapers when reading news online is more convenient for my lifestyle. I guess I’m nostalgic for “old times,” remembering the excitement I felt as a kid when “I read an article Mom!” or picked up the morning paper and the ink was still wet. Even at a young age, I had a basic understanding of what amazes me today — that all of these stories were compiled, researched, written, packaged and delivered — in the span of one day.

That sense of a day’s entirety is lost on the homepage of a website. The NYTimes.com constantly updates and changes its top stories throughout the day. I rarely do it, but I want the possibility of reading from cover to cover, the satisfaction of tackling the news without the nagging feeling that some bold headline appeared just as I looked away.

The scope of The Times website is infinite — between all of the articles, archives, photo galleries, timelines and podcasts, I can never read enough, be on top of the news enough. Sometimes, this wealth of information and visual stimulation is exactly what I’m looking for. But I do find myself flitting from headline to headline and am much more committed to a story when I read it in print.

Those are my reasons for being conflicted. Of course, my dad has his own.

With the click of “submit,” so goes another year, another print subscription. Yes, we’re essentially buying the paper for the off-chance that we go on a car trip, that we want to read in bed, that the Internet goes out, but for now, that’s good enough.

I’ve decided The New York Times and the NYTimes.com are not interchangeable.


Sara Felsenstein works in television in New York City and keeps a writing and photography blog, sketchingastory.com. Contact her at sfelsens@gmail.com.


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