By RAHN ADAMS
This past Sunday I finally took out my white flag — actually, my credit card — and paid for a digital subscription to one of my hometown newspapers. Even though President Trump calls the news media the “enemy of the people,” I decided that since I couldn’t beat ’em, I might as well join ’em — “them” being the Lenoir News-Topic’s army of subscribers.
In one regard Trump was right: The newspaper’s wall — firewall, that is — was just too “big and beautiful,” from the News-Topic circulation department’s perspective, anyway, for me to get past. Time and again, I’ve tried to dash onto the paper’s website to read an article, column or obituary, only to be reminded that I was an undocumented visitor at newstopicnews.com and that my paperwork needed to be on file to enjoy the benefits of subscribership.
I’ve subscribed to publications online before — Rolling Stone and The New Yorker magazines, as well as The New York Times, whose syndicate once owned the Lenoir newspaper. And I’ve subscribed to the print editions of my several “hometown” papers at various times, including The News Herald of Morganton, The Brunswick Beacon of Shallotte, and The Morning Star of Wilmington, the state’s oldest newspaper, also once owned by The New York Times, for whatever difference that made.
(I should note here that my all-time favorite living newspaperman, Ben Steelman, announced Monday his upcoming retirement from the StarNews after more than 40 years as a reporter and writer of everything under the coastal N.C. sun. Thank you, Ben. You will be missed.)
Before I was old enough to be an actual subscriber myself, my family always took the local paper, as folks around here phrase it, whether it was The News Herald, News-Topic, The Daily Pantograph of Bloomington, Ill., or the Zion-Benton News of Zion, Ill. That made sense — that we supported our local papers wherever we lived and often after we moved away — because my great-grandmother, grandmother and mother had all written a weekly community column for The News Herald through the years.
Later, Mom was the long-time faculty adviser for Morganton Freedom High School’s student newspaper, Liberty Press, as well as the school’s newspaper journalism teacher. As a student in that class, my wife Timberley met her future mother-in-law for the first time. That was in 1977, about five years before Timberley and I married after meeting and working together at The News Herald, where her father was the long-time advertising director and, uh, my boss.
My first newspaper job was a part-time, after-school position as a helper in the News Herald advertising department, probably the lowliest job in the building. A few years later I was hired part-time as a sports stringer — the lowliest writing job — and then full-time as a staff writer at The Valdese News, a now-defunct weekly then owned by The News Herald. For about a year I wrote a humor column for Hickory’s Focus magazine (still funct, as far as I know). And finally I went to work at The Brunswick Beacon, one of the best weeklies in the state, both then and now.
So you’d think that subscribing to a newspaper at this point in my life would be no big deal, that I wouldn’t mind shelling out a few bucks each week for access to the digital magic that rearranges and recolors the pixels on my cellphone screen into words and pictures of current events around Lenoir, sans the inky newsprint that always turned my fingers black and made me sneeze. It is magic, you know — here today, gone tomorrow, vanished into those electronic streams of 1’s and 0’s from whence it came. (Or, maybe worse, it can be altered at any time for one purpose or another.)
And maybe that’s why I’m somewhat uneasy about digital anything, whether it’s newspapers, magazines, books, music, video content or even the photographs we freely take and share with our ubiquitous cellphone cameras. Nothing strictly digital seems as permanent as the physical medium it replaced. Nothing is chiseled in stone anymore except, just maybe, our tombstones.
Most content on the Internet used to be free. Now it’s at least relatively cheap. But at what ultimate cost?