June 28th, 2012 / 12:49 pm

My History with The New York Times

I first remember perceiving the term “The New York Times,” sometime in the mid-nineties, living in Granger, Indiana. My parents, a Jew and a soon-to-be-converted Jew, who had spent their entire lives (thirty-something years) on the East Coast, were beginning to feel the cultural ache that came along with Midwestern life. They subscribed to the Sunday edition in order to reconnect with their intellectual elitist roots—a form of journalism invested in the liberal ideology, the arts and sciences of a better tomorrow, which actually did seem possible during the long reign of Clinton’s social wealth. My sister and I bought silly putty and warped the faces of Calvin and Hobbes, of politicians and Paul O’Neill. About a year later my parents cancelled the subscription for reasons I can’t quite recall. Maybe it was because of the money (at that point they didn’t make a lot), maybe it was because they realized they were so isolated, one thousand miles from the local and penetrating stories that carried no immediacy or urgent weight. Or maybe it was because they thought the news was not what it once was. They’ve said this before about 60 Minutes as the past two decades have rolled by, growing more and more nostalgic for something that may never have even been there.

I didn’t see the newspaper again until the early aughts. We were back, living in Massachusetts, and the time was ripe for consumer growth. Starbucks and competing cafe-like chains blur the images of my early adolescence—Au Bon Pains and Paneras and the dozens of local knock-offs. These establishments drew a certain amount of excitement and pleasure. The term ‘espresso,’ pronounced almost exclusively ‘expresso,’ rang through my brain. I would go with my father if I was lucky enough to take a day off from school and follow him around Boston running errands. Inside, he would sit and read The Globe, owned by none other than The Times itself, but a number of other newspapers were always present. The Boston Herald, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, local indie free papers. Then there was the actual New York paper, tiny print and high school reading level. I looked inside, desperately searching for lingerie ads and comic strips. Dilbert was a favorite if memory serves. I liked getting ink on my fingers.

Years passed. I grew older, stopped checking the paper for baseball standings, grew my hair long and listened to bands like The Libertines and The Flaming Lips. I started high school. I enrolled in a class called “Journalism.” Every morning a stack of The New York Times arrived at the front of the long brick building. It was my job, for some reason, to go get them. I think my friend Charles helped. We carried them up the three flights of stairs to the dark classroom, one of the few without windows, and poured over the pages. We were required to read five articles a day, or something. We were required to summarize the articles. Make stories from the stories. Uphold some sort of integrity in the telling. It was one of the first times I wrote this way and I can’t remember what I wrote. I started smoking weed and playing in bands, but I maintained political alliance. I was a bleeding heart liberal, according at least to my memory of early poems and arguments among those hallways. The same teacher maintained the school’s literary magazine, in which I first published, anonymously, a poem about how I hated all my peers.

Things got worse as I aged. I stopped thinking about the news and our constructed society. I did more drugs, then stopped and cut my hair short, and sort of dressed like a weirdo still. An attempt to separate myself from the climate of small town life. I said I didn’t care about politics. I was too young by a month to vote in the big election and said it didn’t matter. I didn’t keep up with news, sports, art, etc. I didn’t see any newspapers except the ones in the recycling bin in my garage. I’m not sure the point I’m trying to make. I’m not sure why I started this article. It may have been a fuck-you to myself, but it’s going nowhere. Big deal, so I didn’t read The New York Times. What does this even matter. I was eighteen and I enrolled in a college in New York City. Oh, big fucking deal.

What else can I tell you about my history with The New York Times? There’s really not much. I guess I became aware that there was an online version in college. I was required to summarize science findings for a science class I was required to take. Listen, I was completely depressed. Everything felt hard to do. Walking around, speaking aloud. I announced how apolitical I was and didn’t even believe it. What do you think I’m gaining from writing this? I remember my friend, who was barely even an acquaintance at the time, Adam, had this vlog called “i read nytimes” or something, where he talked about the news maybe?

Was it meant to be funny? Are you asking me like I have an answer? I’m answerless, don’t look to me. Oh big deal, you’re reading about what I’ve got to say about the biggest news source in the country. Like, what do you read? The Wall Street Journal? USA Today? Forget it, just ridiculous. Just absolutely absurd I would even consider doing this or you considering even whatever. Whatever you’re doing. Are you reading along? Following? Trying to get somewhere with this? Oh yeah. Oh great. Sure. Sure. Okay. OK. Big… deal…

Listen, so here’s where things get interesting again: I remember when they said you’d have to start paying for The New York Times online. People were all pissed, and so guess what, I didn’t care. But then. But then. You know what. I got a job. And at that job I sit at a desk with a computer. For god’s sake what do you think I’m doing now? Where do you think I am? I’m at my job, for god’s sake. That’s where I am for Christ’s sake. Goddamn. Goddamn you all. What do you think I do here? I do what everyone does at their jobs. Everyone passed the time. They all look at the websites. We all waste our lives away staring weakly at our little computer monitors. Mine is from the Windows XP era. Maybe earlier. It works, though, enough. Enough to read the screen, to log onto my Gmail account. What else do I do at my job? I read it. I read it all day. I read The New York Times. My girlfriend bought a subscription. Big deal, right. But here’s the interesting part, at least to me. I love these articles. I love these articles so much. These certain articles. These particular certain articles bring me so much joy and I love to read them. These articles are about adolescents, almost exclusively. Whether they’re being molested in prep schools, abusing Adderall and Ritalin, getting spied on by their parents with regard to their Internet presences and smartphone text history. It’s crazy. New articles everyday. I want to read only about ages eight to eighteen. The only interesting people to read about. I don’t know why. Is it because I feel my youth was not fucked up enough? Is it because of the innocence I believe I was raised with? A nostalgia for my own pre-Internet, pre-cellphonic upbringing? Like, remember when I was talking about getting ink on my hands and playing with silly putty? Is it about that? Like was my childhood so different? How The New York Times was on paper instead of the computer. Yeah, OK. As if I have the right to say that kind of stuff. As if I have any right at all. Like my life is or was something at all.



  1. Erik Stinson

      i guess i started reading the new yorker in my high school library while listening to bright eyes, seems really bad. didn’t really read nyt till moving to ny.

  2. reynard

      my roommate and i just saw lewis lapham’s pseudodocumentary the american ruling class because i mentioned that movie the ruling class which apparently is streaming on netflix and so is lapham’s movie and in it this guy who is like thinking about joining the ruling class (lol) interviews the publisher of the times and the dude says (and i’m assuming he was being cattily candid) that every quarter there is a meeting where two people (i forget who) ‘duke it out’ over what will matter more in the next quarter, the news or profits

      i subscribed to the sunday times a few months ago after realizing that i have a sunday but i haven’t paid for it in two months, mostly i love the magazine and the sunday review; i used to get pissed when i would walk to the san francisco public library as early as i could from wherever i was living at the time only to almost always find the (for some reason) sole copy of the times without either of those things

  3. Anonymous

       totally agree with you about the magazine being better than the newspaper

      the other thing you said reminds me of the first episode in the new HBO show Newsroom, has anyone seen it, what do you think? It’s free on youtube right now

  4. emmab

      “the cultural ache that came along with Midwestern life”
      oh ok cool

  5. Anonymous

      Cool post. Lots of good, weird movement. But — just a weird memory thing: There are/were no comic strips in the Times. So maybe your Silly Putty memory is from the Globe.

      Also, I used to read the NYT on paper, and now read it online.

      The paper was better. 

  6. David Fishkind

       interesting re comic strips… i may be remembering the south bend tribune as well, as the 90s are very blurred in my memory