Old newspapers

I’m one of those people who, back in the day, would clip articles out of newspapers and magazines. Often they’d be no more than interesting sounding recipes, but equally, I’d cut out memorable articles about sport or politics, culture and general commentary.

The result of this was that over the years, I accumulated boxes of these clippings. As a rule, it’s not much good if they’re in a box where no-one can read them and, besides, they take up space. Over the last few years, I’ve periodically reviewed what’s in the box. If it’s interesting, I’ll digitise it and discard the original. If it’s no longer of interest – and sometimes the original intent seems quaint, or the content no longer relevant – then I’ll get rid of it.

Before starting work today, I plucked a plastic bag of these articles from under my desk and began to go through them on impulse. Mostly they were recipes, and if the recipe was a good one, I’d search for a digital version to copy. If I couldn’t, I kept the hard copy and added to the pile of recipes in the kitchen to work through.

I turned over a page of recipes to check what was on the other side at one stage. This was from The Age, when it was still a broadsheet – in other words, when it was still a decent newspaper (it was better than that for a long time, and was a great newspaper at one stage).

It was a reminder of how things have changed. This was from 1998, and what I saw was a detailed, in-depth coverage. As I continued through the clippings, that was the pattern I observed in the incidental pieces. I’m not sure how quite to explain it. I guess I would say it was an unhurried coverage.

Obviously, the purpose was to provide a well-rounded and informed description of the events and the facts attached to them. There was nothing sensationalist, as so often is the case today, and none of the breathless quality you get in most newspapers in contemporary Australia. The prose was much richer, also.

It got me thinking. It’s not as if I’d forgotten how good our newspapers once were. What I remembered is how it made me feel. You took it for granted to a large degree – why expect anything less? Reading back, there’s a sense of safety knowing that it’s completely credible. And at the time, there was security knowing that you would be well informed – and informed with style and intelligence.

It’s sad how things have changed, but it seems the case across much of the world. There are still great newspapers, but I suspect the best now is not as good as they were once. This applies to most media these days, which is good only for reporting on sport. In the case of The Age, it’s now hopeless. I subscribe to the NYT internationally and will read the odd article from The Saturday Paper locally.

One pleasant reminder was happening upon a couple of old columns by Mark Dapin – I used to love his stuff, but he doesn’t write for newspapers anymore. He’s graduated to books, and good on him.

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