newspapers: who needs them?

There’s a lot of (well deserved) ire being poured out on newspapers in general, and tabloids in particular at the moment.  I still buy a daily paper (you might perhaps have a clue about the political leanings in our house from the fact that we don’t call it the Guardian, just ‘the paper’, even when we’re talking with other people), but have been thinking a lot about whether it’s worth it – I’ve got Flipboard on my iPad, Twitter, news feeds galore, what am I gaining from a hard paper copy? I’m reading a lot of books on the iPad (and even iPhone), and print is so huge – we’re constantly recycling – so why? There’s an inertia, an almost tribal loyalty, and perhaps a residual belief that if something’s good, it’s worth paying for. But there’s also that nagging doubt, a sense that it’s all out there on the web anyway.

And then today I’ve found two articles that are really quite random, but which I don’t think I’d have seen without the physical act of flicking through a proper printed page. The first is the description of flying the Space Shuttle just before the final flight tomorrow. It’s incredibly simple, really just a ‘we wake up excited, get on board and get flung into space’ timeline, but it’s wonderfully human, and captures something of the excitement of going into space, and explains a little of why it’s been worth doing.  I went to Cape Canaveral when I was seven, and it was a wonderfully influential moment – one of the reasons I studied engineering, but also a moment of understanding scale and humanity’s relationship with giant things (standing at the tail end of one of the Saturn rockets, seeing the Vehicle Assembly Building which is so vast that it ‘has it’s own weather system!!’, or so we were rather breathlessly told). For all the cost and the loss and the complexities, to me, the Shuttle remains one of the great human achievements of my lifetime, and part of the astonishing power of it is that we almost treat shuttle flights as ‘normal’.

The other article was yesterday, looking at the new skyscraper by Frank Gehry in New York (the 8 Spruce Street building).  It’s stunning – subtle and generous, flowing and powerful, and I’m sure I’d have come across it at some point but I’m glad it was today. This is wonderful architecture, transforming our view of cities and how space can be used and made more human, and truly beautiful. The human story of Gehry’s family in Jonathan Glancey’s piece is just an additional twist to the whole thing.

Neither of these are hard news. But they’re part of why buying a newspaper every day is worthwhile, at least for me. I follow things I’m interested in online – lots of things, including architecture and science. But every news feed you click on does start to close down other paths – a newspaper is inherently a mix, aiming at a wider range of people with different views.  And the fact I can link through to these articles here obviously recognises their longevity – ten years ago, if I’d missed yesterday’s piece, that might have been it. Let’s just hope they can stay solvent…