Bad omens for the future of newspapers have become depressingly familiar in recent years. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the rude shock I got in the Los Angeles airport a week ago.
Getting ready to board an American Airlines flight back to New York, after a week’s vacation in California (a reward to myself for getting double-vaccinated), I stopped at the Hudson News outlet nearest my gate for a copy of the New York Times to read on the plane. I found the usual racks of magazines, but had trouble locating the newspapers, and I had to ask where they were.
Nowhere, I was told. Hudson News no longer sells newspapers at the Los Angeles airport.
Gulp. I’m well aware that the readership for print newspapers is dropping, as more and more people turn to their smartphones and tablets. Yet I’m one of the holdouts — and I know I’m not alone — who prefer reading news the old-fashioned way. Paging through a newspaper, seeing how stories are played, gives me a better sense of their relative importance. It exposes me to more stories that I wouldn’t ordinarily see or seek out. I read more, and I read for longer. At an airport, especially, it seems reasonable to assume that at least some people would want to pick up a paper for the long plane flight. At least it doesn’t have to be turned to “airplane mode” once you take off.
The irony is that my airport encounter came just a few days after a quite different, more heartening newspaper experience. While in California, I spent a couple of days in Cambria, a picturesque seaside town about halfway up the coast between LA and San Francisco. On my first morning there, I went into town, grabbed a cup of coffee, and went in search of a New York Times — not especially optimistic that I would find one. Yet I was directed to the liquor store on the corner, which had a big rack of local and national papers, including a slot for the Times. But it was empty.
“Sold out,” the proprietor told me. Nine copies had been delivered that morning, and all were gone by 9:30 a.m. My heart leaped: in little Cambria, Calif. (pop. 6,032), there are at least nine people who want to read the New York Times. (And probably more: the gas station down the street also carried the paper, and I managed to snag a copy there.) That’s my kind of town.
And yet no one at all, Hudson News has decided, might want to pick up a paper in the LA airport? Curious to know whether this policy is unique to LAX, or has spread to other airports as well, I contacted Hudson News. A spokesperson responded to my e-mail sympathetically (“Like you I am also a fan of reading newspapers”) and said she’d look into it. I haven’t heard back.
I had a book to sustain me on the crowded flight back to New York. But my mood was dark — almost as dark as the plane itself. One other byproduct of the digital revolution: on nearly every plane flight these days, you’ll find the window shades drawn. No more looking outside to appreciate the miracle of flying 30,000 feet above the Rocky Mountains on a beautiful spring morning. Everyone wants darkness, so they can peer at their screens.
Newspapers, on the other hand, need light. At least before they go completely dark.