Age nine: I read the newspaper for entertainment. I sit at the kitchen table with my dad in the mornings as he reads the sports pages of the Statesman Journal and I read the living section, laughing at the black-and-white strips about vikings and talking crocodiles, a hapless cat owner and some fun-loving Army soldiers. I am obviously steeped deep in my nerdiness, but I hardly notice. I just want to read. I’ll take the backs of cereal boxes or any book on the bookshelf. All I need are words.
Baby Blues teaches me that kids are exhausting and messy and funny. Zits teaches me that teenagers never grow up. Sally Forth teaches me that pop culture is fun and my parents can be my friends unless they’re trying. Comics open up a world larger and more diverse than my hometown, and I tumble in headfirst.
Age sixteen: I read the newspaper to know what’s important. A precocious and diligent student, I’m trying to wrap my head around the war in Iraq and an upcoming election. My grandpa decides to talk politics after a glass of wine at the Thanksgiving table, and I’m ready to engage him, spouting jobs numbers and arguing for my candidate like I understand what I’m talking about.
I want to be informed, to be able to respond with intelligence when my government teacher puts forth a debate topic, and I find answers and perspective in the newspaper.
Age nineteen: I read the newspaper because it’s shaping my career. A college sophomore and declared journalism major, I am now not just a reader of the newspaper but also a writer for a newspaper. The Gonzaga Bulletin runs my first article, a feature on Spokane’s Centennial Trail and surrounding recreation. Seeing my byline on the page sends thrills up my spine.
I marvel at my own wit after I pen a headline for my second article, this one on seasonal affective disorder: “Feeling SAD? It could be the weather.” I unfold the issue only to note that my editor swiftly dispatched my clever creation for the droll alternative, “Lack of sunlight may cause mild seasonal sadness.”
I festoon the bulletin board in my dorm room with passionate op-ed columns and the clever weather squares that run on the front page of the Spokesman-Review, giving a cheeky little summary like “Plenty of clouds” or “Clearly a sunny one.” My college roommate comes back to our dorm room one day and shouts, “Ew! What’s a newspaper doing on my desk?!” I dissolve into giggles and tell her to read it for the twelfth time that semester
Age twenty-one: I read the newspaper to learn what’s hip. My girlfriends and I sit around an oversized wooden table at a downtown coffee shop on Sunday mornings, eating toasted bagels and drinking giant Americanos. We pretend we’re there to study, but we tend to page listlessly through The Inlander instead. We know we should be writing term papers. Instead, we’re trying to finish the crossword puzzle.
We laugh as we read aloud the I Saw You submissions, we place too much importance on our silly horoscopes, we read movie reviews and ask each other what we would say in response to the On the Street question. Bonding over the alt-weekly paper, we affirm that we are finding ourselves in this world.
I have just finished a semester-long internship writing for this very paper, and now I Know Things. I have spoken with citizens at the voting booth and panhandlers on freeway exits, affluent couples pushing acai juice products and indie filmmakers. Newspapers continue to expand my perspective.
Age twenty-eight: I read the newspaper to understand the world. I didn’t become a journalist immediately, despite my earnest efforts. The magazine I interned for after I graduated from college ceased publication at the end of the summer, right when I was hoping to get a job.
Recently, I’ve been freelancing for my college’s quarterly magazine and submitting creative nonfiction pieces to far-flung literary journals. I am one of the few people I know at any age who subscribes to the newspaper, which has dropped home delivery to four days a week. My office receives the New York Times on weekdays and I gobble it up over lunch. If I’m traveling or at a meeting, it remains largely untouched.
I read articles about gender-fluid fashion and profiles on Syrian refugees. The New York Times writes a lot about the pope and my city. I read it all. I tear out recipes and drop pertinent articles on my coworkers’ desks. The newspaper helps me to form opinions, to empathize, to take a breath, to escape.
Last week, I accepted a job offer with a newspaper. As the engagement editor for National Catholic Reporter, I will be helping the 50-year-old paper reach new audiences and expand their storytelling efforts. I’m going to be learning about global initiatives and social justice efforts in serious detail. I am going to help others understand the world. I can’t wait to bring the stories on the page to life in conversation.