“All the News That’s Fit to Print” Should Still Be in Print by (3 Stories)

Prompted By Newspapers

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Growing up in Washington D.C in the ‘50s and 60s, we had two newspapers land on our doorstep every day. My father would rise early enough to read The Washington Post as he ate his breakfast of one soft boiled egg, one piece of toast, and a cup of instant coffee made with the water that cooked his egg, before catching the bus for his government job downtown. Arriving home precisely at 5 p.m., he would scoop The Evening Star off the front stoop and settle into his chair to determine what had changed in the world since morning and to see the differing perspectives of the Post and Star reporters.

The gradual decline of print newspapers is a great sadness to me. While I do read the news online, it is not the same. I can only describe it as a loss of serendipity.

As soon as I learned to read, I, too, started my morning with the Post in eager anticipation of the comics, also called the funny pages. The Post was the best, having at least four full pages peopled with characters that became very real to me: Charlie Brown, Pogo, Lil’ Abner, Nancy and Sluggo, Beetle Bailey, Mary Worth, Rex Morgan, MD, and Prince Valiant, to name a few. Although the comics today don’t seem as funny (is it me or them?) they are still a part of my daily routine.

As I grew older, my newspaper reading expanded. If my memory holds (a dubious assumption), the Post situated columnists, such as investigative journalists Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson, next to the comics. I am not sure what, if anything, that implied about the Post’s view of columnists, but soon I entered the world of differing views on the news, depending on the political leanings of the columnist. Today, after the comics, I turn to the columns of whatever newspaper I am reading. The front page can wait. I am fascinated with the roles columnists play in shaping public opinion and public policy. I have often thought that the best, most engaging way to teach history would be to have students read columns about an event (e.g. the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention) as history in the making, and then read historians’ accounts – history viewed from a distance in time.

Whatever city I moved to, my first act once I had an address was to subscribe to the local paper. Instead of an alarm clock, I relied on the thump of the paper against the door to wake me. Reading the local papers helped me understand my new home and what mattered to the people living there. Letters to the editor were especially revealing. The demise of local newspapers is a huge loss. With only national news outlets and websites for information, communities have no easy access to issues specific to their neighborhoods and towns. The loss of local news can result in greater isolation from the thoughts and concerns of our neighbors. Local papers can elicit a feeling of pride in the unique aspects of a town or city, emphasizing that diversity is a positive, unifying feature of our country, not a source of divisiveness. These newspapers are also an important breeding ground for young aspiring reporters.

The gradual decline of print newspapers is a great sadness to me. While I do read the news online, it is not the same. I can only describe it as a loss of serendipity. As I turn the pages of my print newspaper in search of the comics and columns, I invariably come across an article or essay that I might never have read without thumbing through the paper. Perhaps I learn something new or alert a friend to a piece they might enjoy. I try to explain that to my now grown children who view print as almost immoral (too many trees; I get that). But for me, this kind of stumble – this serendipitous discovery – does not happen in my online reading. I read a headline, click on the article, and then move to the next headline. Even with headlines as “clickbait,” I rarely page through the digital paper at a leisurely pace. I will miss my casual strolls through print if it ever truly disappears. I may also have to buy an alarm clock.


Profile photo of Jacqueline Miller Jacqueline Miller

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Thanx for this fine story Maxandhuw!

    The tech revolution has certainly changed the way we get our news, as so much else in our lives has changed.. Let’s hope the press – in whatever form – remains free.

    Altho we have access to the digital version as well, I too like hearing the thud of the newspaper hitting our apartment doorstep. We’re New Yorkers so of course can’t live without the Times!

    Welcome to Retrospect, looking forward to more of your stories!

    • Thanks for the welcome. I’m excited about reading everyone’s stories about interesting and everyday parts of our lives. I am fond of writing to prompts. It feels freeing to write spontaneously without overthinking every word and comma. That is my cover for any less than perfect future posts from me!!

  2. Suzy says:

    Jackie, welcome to Retrospect! I love this story so much, because it reflects my own views completely! I too always start reading the paper with the comics, and yes, they are not as funny now as they were when we were kids. I also then go to the columnists, although I have to admit I read the advice columnists first – formerly Ann Landers, now Dear Abby and Carolyn Hax. But after that the political columnists. And finally the front page (although as I reveal in my own story, the Sacramento Bee has taken to printing a full-page picture on the front page half of the time.

    I am also intrigued by the fact that your father used the water from cooking his egg to make his instant coffee. An early conservationist? Or did he think it added to the flavor?

    Thanks for this wonderful story, and I hope you will find our other prompts inspire you to keep writing here.

    • It is nice writing for similarly aged readers. I just finished writing stories for my adult children and I am sure they did not get many of my references or jokes. It definitely interrupts the flow of an essay when you have to stop and explain things, such as instant coffee in the age of baristas. Speaking of instant coffee…I would love to think that my father was an early conservationist. More likely he just found it less work to use already boiled water. It could also be a result of coming of age in the Great Depression, with its Waste Not Want Not mind set. I wonder how many habits of our parents are the result of that experience. My Dad also made us eat a piece of bread before each meal, probably so we wouldn’t need more of the expensive stuff.

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    This is a wonderful trip through newspaperland that I completely relate to (though maybe not the instant coffee made with boiled-egg water). Like you, I enjoy leafing through the pages in my own order, am distressed by the decline of newspapers in general, and treasure the local papers. Your suggestion about reading the columnists of the day, and then the historians, sounds like a good one too. Well written and wise.

    • Thank you for your kind words. I have been carrying around that idea for teaching history for a long time, so it was nice to have a place to write it out loud. There are so many creative ways to bring different subject areas to life and get students excited about learning but change is hard.

  4. Marian says:

    Wonderful story, and I couldn’t agree more with everything, especially the serendipity of stumbling upon an article you wouldn’t otherwise have read. Welcome to Retrospect!

    • Serendipity is a wonderful phenomenon, not only in reading but in life in general. Some of the most amazing discoveries and inventions have been serendipitous. I think it’s a matter of observing and thinking outside the proverbial box.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Welcome to Retrospect! I totally relate to your story. While my grandkids are mystified as to why I need a physical newspaper, I definitely do. Online news is not as satisfying as sitting down to breakfast with a paper.

    • Thank you for the welcome. I’m enjoying responding to everyone’s comments almost as much as writing a story. Your comment about breakfast made me wonder whether kids still read the cereal boxes. And what was so fascinating about them?

  6. Susan Bennet says:

    Hello maxandhuw, what a finely expressed comparison of then and now. (I was particularly impressed with your father’s dual subscriptions to papers of differing perspectives — can’t imagine that happening now.) In the last 40 years, financially stressed independent small-town papers have been put on life support, purchased by regional corporate entities. Disappointing, but necessary, I guess. Right as I write this, an op-ed in our city paper’s print edition is putting a spotlight on a dreadful situation that affects a good friend and hundreds of thousands of others. Bless them! And shame on me for not subscribing to a paper — will rethink because of your article. Thanks.

    • Your comment about the op-ed in the local paper made me also think about how overwhelmed I can get reading major newspapers, not just by the volume of paper but also by the magnitude of the issues. Especially recently, I feel powerless about having any impact anywhere. Local papers inform me about issues that I may actually be able to do something about.

  7. Betsy Pfau says:

    What an auspicious introduction to Retrospect, Jackie, and welcome. It was so interesting to read your father’s take on reading the news and how you followed suit, both mornings and evening (subscribing to the local paper wherever you go, and awaking to the thump on the door – I really like that image).

    I also endorse your comment about the way to teach history – read old contemporaneous columns about the event, then fast forward to historical accounts of what happened. That’s a great idea (particularly in today’s climate where real history is being squashed in so many Red State school districts, books banned; really scary stuff).

    And the way you describe the difference between reading newsprint and reading online is exactly right and one of the reasons I still prefer my printed edition. I do stumble on interesting tidbits that I wouldn’t bother to click on as I go through my online paper (even though the Boston Globe is an exact replica of the print edition; it is still more difficult to “thumb” through).

    Thank you for this thoughtful story.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments. There exist so many better ways to teach history, science (my area of expertise), mathematics, music, and art that would make these topics exciting and engaging and. could encourage students to think critically. I’d like them to become informed skeptics. In my experience literature and writing teachers are better at it.

  8. I hope someone lets me in on the joke, Jacqueline, about why some prefer to call you Maxenhuw.
    As I reflect on pouring the water from steaming broccoli into my couscous earlier this week, I appreciate a guy who wants to retain the nutritional contents lost into the egg-boiling water! Thanks for that.
    You’re right; it was a widespread practice that comics and op-eds and letters to the editor were all adjacent. I think it was the exciting, unexpected and least predictable portion of the paper. Thanks for reminding me of that.

    • The maxandhuw handle was displayed as the result of my technological snafu. It is my user name, a breathless exhalation of two of my favorite people on the planet, my sons. I love the idea of unpredictable sections of a newspaper. Unexpected change in a routine definitely makes me pay greater attention and think more creatively.

  9. Jim Willis says:

    Jackie, I enjoyed reading your inaugural story for Retrospect! Keep them coming!

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