Slate to newspapers: you’re killing us

Despite all the obvious reasons newspapers are likely to die off in my lifetime — the lumbering pace of innovation in newsrooms, the attrition of readers who care more about Britney Spears’ dedication to promoting venereal disease than real news, cataclysmic led poisoning in Chinese-made spiral notebooks, etc. — I’ve been wondering for a while now if environmental concerns would eventually become a factor soon. Today, Slate’s Green Lantern (did DC Comics sign off on that name, btw?) tackles the question of whether ditching the paper versions is the greener choice. The answer: a hazy yes, for now.

It only seems logical that this big log of dead tree that arrives on your (well, probably not your doorstep, according to circulation figures) will eventually be seen as much an tenet of the Luddites as people who still pay with checks at the grocery story. It’s called a check card, people, and it makes all of our lives just a little easier.

The newspaper itself has so far been spared by the wave of green consciousness that has swept the country in the past few years and awakened even the most stubborn of folk to the need to be even a tiny bit less wasteful in their daily lives. For example, one of our openly conservative reporters recently confided he’s started buying organic and shopping with reusable canvas bags. The horror!

But the physical newspaper is a paragon of inefficient paper usage, in that most readers, including me, rarely read 100 percent of the paper and will often just toss out things like ads, stock pages and — dare I say it? — the sports section. So then my living room looks like a paper refinery explosion by Sunday thanks to the two local papers we get and the Sunday New York Times. Add to that the fact that some 31 percent of newspapers aren’t recycled, according to Slate, and you’ve got a mess of bylines and enterprise art relevant for all of 24 hours now rotting in a landfill somewhere. Which is how I felt about my high school dating record.

So will environmentalists soon come knocking on the door of newspapers across the country, demanding that we stop our genocide of old growth forests? And are they right? The internet is a slightly less environmentally abrasive method of information delivery, and by far a more convenient one than having to track down 50 cents for a newspaper box. Newspaper boxes should accept check cards. As should everything else, including people I owe money too, but that’s a different blog post.

It all comes back to the internet and the attempts to adapt the ink-and-paper tradition of news telling to a fluid and ephemeral medium. The bigger mystery: how do we make money off it, when everything is free and everyone has pop-up blockers? But let’s be serious: they still have to make a screen that doesn’t hurt your eyes after a few hours first.

(illustration by Slate)

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