IMHO…trees are safe

In my humble opinion, trees can start breathing easier. The ease and proliferation of online information and communications has expanded so rapidly and is expanding so broadly that we can stop clearing forests to churn magnificent trees into paper. I thought my kids where going to have conniption fits when they learned Dear Old Dad was on Facebook. “Oh, brother…now we’ll have to find someplace else to go,” the elder daughter exclaimed. But, when she saw me connecting with hundreds of friends and colleagues, people my age not hers…and when her 89-year-old grandfather started his Facebook page, she just gave up, befriended him and I’m sure is now onto the next social networking secret being kept from freakish old people like us.

But newspapers, again in my humble opinion, are an increasing irrelevance and a total waste of trees that sit there harming no one while they save us from global warming. The Sunday editions of the New York Times and Dallas Morning News are sitting in my living room now about 90 percent un-read. I scrolled through the NYT on my Blackberry before ever heading downstairs this morning for the weekend “coffee or tea?” debate. I skimmed all the headlines, clicked through to read six or so stories and got the gist of what’s happening from the NYT’s angle. I also had to check what happened today in history and was reminded that the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco erupted on this day…another Sunday, oddly enough. What if it had happened on Feb. 29 instead, a leap year? Would being reminded only every four years make it seem any less bizarre than it was? I digress.

I quickly checked the front page of the DMN and the front pages of a couple of sections, a defensive move more than a reading exercise, just to make sure there were no surprises I needed to know about. Certainly not to gather news. Now all the feature sections of both papers are sorted into their respective mudroom bathroom reading and master bathroom reading stacks (I’d say piles, but…well, never mind) and within a few days, they’ll get skimmed and browsed and maybe even read, and I’ll have enough newsprint on my fingers to justify keeping the subscriptions.

A year ago, it was four papers a day on the doorstep (although our papers rarely make it within 10 yards of the doorstep). On Sundays, it was only two, since the WSJ and FT didn’t publish. Okay, I’ll admit to missing the WSJ, simply because the writing got so much beter after Murdoch took over, something I never imagined would happen and imagined even less that I would admit. The news and feature mix was great, especially in the Personal Journal on Friday and the Weekend Journal, and the writing had life again. The clear exception, of course, was the editorial page that tilted so far to the right I was afraid I would fall over whenever I started to read it. Maybe the Murdoch takeover and my affinity for the WSJ were purely coincidental. I certainly hope so. But, with four papers a day, something had to go.

I really miss the FT. The British writers just have this way of expressing themselves that makes me want to dive into tea and crumpets (English muffins suffice). I like the odd spellings and the interesting phrases. Their take on the news brought a perspective one couldn’t access in US papers. And the weekend edition made for terrific bathroom reading, often getting me through an entire week if I didn’t consume it all (over tea, of course) when I awoke on Saturday. Now that I think about it, the “coffee or tea?” debate started when I decided not to renew the FT. One couldn’t read it without a nice cuppa.

The NYT would and should be the next to go, but too many people I know and like read it — and I hate the thought of missing out on the “did you see the piece in today’s Times about…” discussions, although those regrettably are more and more infrequent. And, given my penchant for reading the Times on my Blackberry before even descending the stairs to the kitchen each morning, I am able to absorb just enough content to drop a “did you see…” of my own — to impress myself, if no one else. As for the Dallas Morning News, well, I really don’t have much choice given where I live. If I don’t read it, there is inevitably something that I needed to see and will get caught by surprise by not knowing. I don’t like surprises. I don’t like the DMN either, but that’s another matter entirely. If you live in a city and want to function outside your home in any meaningful way, you don’t have much choice but to read the local paper. San Francisco was the only city I lived where it was a true joy to open the Chronicle each morning, just to read Herb Caen, to see how wrong they could get a basic news report and to know that the Comical was, if nothing, consistently and reliably the Comical.

Yep, the world is getting safer for trees. We don’t send letters anymore, which is sad. Newspapers are increasingly irrelevant the moment they go to print and the internet gives me so much more control over what I read and what I don’t.

But, what’s the deal with magazines? I actually enjoy them more than ever. Not the news magazines, whose days are so numbered I’m shocked there are any numbers left. And, not Harper’s or The Atlantic Monthly anymore, having so perfected indulgence that they became annoying. But, Real Simple and Oprah and Men’s Health…I just can’t help myself. Once I get past all the tedious ads, I get drawn in and enjoy them. Same with National Geographic Traveler and some other travel mags. But the clear winner in the “keep killing a few trees for magazines category” is The Week. Until recently, The Economist was on that list, until it became so impossibly turgid that I just couldn’t take it any more. But The Week is a terrific little magazine that offers no particular perspective of its own — unless you count what it includes and what it excludes — but instead provides a compendium of what the national and international media is reporting, what pundits here and abroad and punditing about and does so in a quick, easily digestible way. It even makes me want to hop onto the computer to follow-up on some odd or interesting bit. The whole concept is brilliant, sort of what must have been rolling around Al’s head when he started USAToday. “The Week” is worth a tree or two.

I like the fact that blogs save trees — in today’s instance, a matter of particular relief.

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With an increasingly pointless amount of arguably useless information packed inside my head, and a totally inappropriate number of opinions about virtually everything, and a family who must suffer through listening to both, it seemed only fitting to foist them upon others who care to read and react. Now well past 60 years old, this is an outlet intended not to unleash but enlighten, myself much more than others.

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