I grew up reading newspapers on my parents’ bed. While my oldest sister hid in her bedroom quietly reading book after book, I was drawn to the more social act of reading the news with my parents.
Every day they bought two main papers: Panorama was a regional newspaper that covered the news of the main western city of Maracaibo, where I was born, and the state where it sits, El Zulia. The other one was the prestigious El Nacional, which as its name implies, was a national newspaper, the more hip competitor to El Universal, another serious and respected national newspaper.
After lunch on weekdays, during the strange siesta break before going back to work and after-school activities, we would read the papers, exchanging sections with each other after finishing them. I was young, 13, 14, 15, but I was already very interested in the arts. I read “La Gran Ilusión,” El Nacional’s film critic Alfonso Molina’s column on movies. I also read all the book reviews and other film reviews, all the theatre and museum reviews. Venezuela was an ambitious, functioning country then. Caracas, the capital, exemplified this ambition: the city was an internationally-known culinary destination, where theatre, literature, film, art, and music were not only created but celebrated. I felt jealous of the scene there, and reading about all these events was the second best thing I could do.
After the arts coverage, I read the political commentary—the opinion pieces written by incredibly erudite journalists, shaping my understanding of our, even then, already concerning political landscape. I was a very young 13-year-old, refusing to stop playing with my little sister, a whole four years younger. So newspapers were instrumental in my awakening to the world, both immediate at home, and beyond.
Everywhere I have gone, my love of newspapers has remained unchanged. When I moved to Quebec at 19, I was keen to learn and then perfect my French. My memories of newspapers there are fuzzy, the lifestyle change was too great, though I did spend hours and hours listening to Radio-Canada, the CBC’s French counterpart, and learning the news that way.
When we moved to Vancouver a year and a half later, I subscribed to the Vancouver Sun. They had a sale and I signed up for it. For the next several months the paper was delivered to my home, where it accumulated in piles of unread sections saved for weekends and quiet times. It was challenging at the beginning as, other than high school, I had never studied English formally. But I had always loved languages, and I’d learned enough English from music and movies in Venezuela to be able to manage simple conversations and find a job when we decided to make the move there. English was fascinating to me: I was desperately hungry for understanding, and in particular, I was determined to decipher the mechanics of the written word. I would pick the hardest, longest articles and make my way through them, grasping maybe a third of the text. I worked in a bagel shop and my commute, by bus, was long. I started to buy the National Post, as they had a strong arts coverage. I still remember the day, going home on the bus and reading an article, when I understood, finally grasping the nuances of the language, that I did not entirely agree with the newspaper’s political views.
Years later, when I worked at Sophia Books, one of the best bookstores Vancouver has ever had, we sold Le Monde and El Pais, two of France and Spain’s top newspapers. When they went unsold, my sweet co-workers would save them for me. I could take them, their shiny, higher-quality paper and orderly blocky print reassuring: hours of knowledge, order, ideas, analysis, and understanding lay ahead. Like all the newspapers I had loved, I had a romantic and highly idealized vision of them, they were a key for my own education, my betterment as a citizen and a human being.
Newspapers, like a lot of printed work, has moved online. Though this shift has been quite detrimental financially to the newspaper industry, for the public there has never been a better time to be a newspaper reader. Even though today most newspapers have finally introduced paywalls–set limits of what’s available for free, or content that’s only available to paying subscribers–there’s still a significant amount of news available to read.
Physical newspapers were finite. You could read them from cover to cover and be done, have a sense of what you’ve read, and what you were going to leave for later or ignore. Digital news are infinite. This feeling is reinforced by the constant stream formats of the platforms a lot of people use to access the news: Twitter and Facebook. I use both and the experience is fragmented and random at best. The problem of these platforms is their relentlessness, their cumulative power: A 15-minute scroll through Twitter (where I follow numerous newspapers and magazines) is enough to create a hopeless paralysis. Technology, and the rate with which we now have access to information, has vastly exceeded our human capacity for receiving and processing this information. The impact on mental health, I believe, is real.
Recently, talking to a friend, the discussion was all around how powerless we felt in the face of so much worldwide injustice and despair: the repression of protesters fighting for democracy in Sudan (more than 120 were killed by the military government currently in power), yet another story of discrimination against a black man or woman, the starving people of Venezuela, the rise of nationalism, with its racist and anti-immigrant undertones, all over Europe; the climate disaster we are facing. The question that I keep coming back to is “what do I do?, What do I do with all this information?” We have gone from being empowered by information to feeling defeated by the sheer amount of it we have access to every day. Still, more than ever, I cling to newspapers for my salvation. In an increasingly complex world, newspapers have the extremely important job not only of reporting the facts, but also offering guidance and perspective, depth. If I were to lose trust in newspapers, that to me would really be like living in a sort of post-apocalyptic world, the end of society and order as we know it—it’s one of my greatest fears.
I know I am privileged: I can read (I give thanks every day for this fact), I live in Canada and now, in mid-life, I can afford to pay for newspapers again. After years of reading three articles here and three articles there, I now subscribe to The New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Guardian. I’m a little ashamed that I subscribe to no Spanish or French language newspaper, though I do access some of their available articles whenever I can.
Newspapers offer me not only comfort but pleasure, even in their online form. Early weekend mornings in bed scrolling through the array of articles available one click away is what I work for all week. The more times I need to scroll down, the better—I love a long article. And, paradoxically, I have found that the way to deal with the excess of information, mainly depressing and terrible news from here in Canada and around the world, is to connect: connect with people around you to discuss the news, connect with your family, your friends, connect with your community. Volunteering at my son’s school has been healing for me. I know I need to do more — much, much more — but for now I’m doing what I can. Being engaged with the world is a start.
In whatever form they take in the future (the current move is to news podcasts), I will always cherish newspapers–they have given me so much. And I know, that in no small part, they have helped me be a better person in every way. They have educated me and taught me languages and introduced me to multitudes of perspectives. Their best gift has been understanding: understanding of the culture around me, the world, and more importantly, my own lack of knowledge and prejudices. Like everything I love, my love of newspapers is a bit romantic, but they have always been and will continue to be, an essential part of who I am.
Featured Photo: El Nacional‘s front page announcing the end of their print edition after 75 years, on December 14, 2018.