Walter E. Hussman Jr., the longtime newspaper publisher, has actually a reputation for making huge bets in company that fly in the challenge of traditional wisdom.
When his family members purchased the Arkansas Democrat in 1974 and appointed the publisher, the was simply 27. The Democrat was an afternoon file with about half the variety of subscribers of its rival, the Arkansas Gazette. Hussman’s previous suffer was a reporting job at Forbes, a stint as basic manager that the small-town Camden News and a year together vice president and general manager the the family members newspaper company.
In his at an early stage years leading the Democrat, Hussman reduced costs and worked to decertify the newspaper’s unions, yet revenues stayed flat. So he approached the Gazette v a proposal come combine company operations while preserving competitive newsrooms, a somewhat usual practice at the moment made possible by a 1970 federal regulation aimed at maintaining struggling newspapers. The Gazette declined. For this reason Hussman visited war.
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He make the Democrat a morning paper. He gave away classified advertising. He rental reporters and editors and also increased the number of pages and also the publish quality. That poured millions into the Democrat and weathered a te of unprofitability. In 1984, the Gazette filed a federal antitrust lawsuit versus the Democrat — and lost. In October 1986, the Gazette’s regional owners marketed the newspaper come Virginia-based that company chain Gannett.
Against the largest newspaper chain in the country, Hussman ongoing to bleed money in order come compete. However ultimately, the latter years of the war boiled down to the difference in between a family-owned business and a publicly traded one. Hussman had actually only to to convince his family that ongoing short-term losses would pay off. Gannett had to keep its shareholders happy. In 1991, Gannett bowed the end of the fight and shuttered the Gazette, marketing the Gazette’s assets to Hussman because that $68.5 million. The work after the Gazette published its critical issue, Hussman attached the Gazette’s name to his newspaper’s flag and started a campaign: “The ideal of Both.”
In the early 2000s, as soon as publishers almost everywhere rushed to catch ascendant digital declaring dollars by creating dynamic websites fill with free articles, Hussman was among the couple of who instituted a tough paywall top top his newspaper’s website, allowing accessibility only come subscribers. In ~ the time, the admitted that his goal wasn’t to create a new revenue stream v digital subscribers, however to defend his print product, a place that earned that both praise and also ridicule. Paywalls, regularly with limited complimentary access, have now come to be the norm. (The Arkansas times website, because that one, describe a paywall in 2013, but before then, the truth that the Democrat-Gazette placed its contents behind a paywall may have helped the Arkansas Times’ Arkansas Blog prosper its committed audience.)
This year marks 200 years because the Arkansas Gazette was founded, and also the Democrat-Gazette is embracing the anniversary as its own. At the conclusion that the newspaper war, Hussman said that the Gazette had ceased publication and also made clean he had actually only to buy its assets. Yet he’s singing a different tune today. “I think the Gazette is most likely the oldest organization in Arkansas,” the told a Democrat-Gazette reporter in June. “It’s clearly the earliest newspaper in Arkansas and the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi. How many newspapers do it 200 years?” (The Democrat also has a lengthy history. Its founding days to at the very least 1878.) previous President invoice Clinton will certainly speak in ~ an invitation-only anniversary banquet in November in ~ the Statehouse Convention Center. Meanwhile, the Democrat-Gazette is posting what the calling a “200-day celebration” of the Gazette’s history. Each day, the newspaper runs an archival photo of an Arkansas Gazette former page; in total, it will publish one because that every year due to the fact that its founding.
That daily reminder of the centuries-long background of a daily newspaper in Arkansas corresponds with the 72-year-old publisher’s undertaking probably the biggest gamble of his career. By the end of the year, Hussman plans to stop printing and delivering the daily edition that the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Other papers have undertaken print-to-digital switch by slowly reducing print publication frequency and also trying to redirect reader to their websites. Hussman is pursuing something various and an ext ambitious. The Democrat-Gazette is make the efforts to lull its devoted readers into the digital future v the assist of a high-end gadget and also a acquainted format. To subscribers who agree to proceed paying the current rate the $34-$36 a month, the Democrat-Gazette is giving a brand-new Apple iPad therefore they have the right to read one e-edition that the paper. With a Democrat-Gazette app — obtainable for cost-free download for the iPad or iphone — subscribers gain a digital facsimile the the publish paper, or an “exact replica edition,” as Hussman calls it, yielded every day, usually before 4 a.m. The app allows subscribers come browse through sections v a flick the the finger, select an article with a tap and also read a full-screen version. Stories, specifically national reports from cable services, often include videos and added pictures in slideshows.
The newspaper’s digital conversion won’t be total; it will still print and also deliver a Sunday edition to many subscribers. Hussman has said that the Sunday paper, with its declaring inserts, account for around 40 percent the the newspaper’s advertising revenue.
Already, subscribers in nearly all of the state’s 63 counties offered by the little Rock newspaper have either viewed the end of daily distribution of a published newspaper or received notice that the finish is near. (Subscribers in the 12 counties served by the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which share content through the tiny Rock paper and is also owned by Hussman’s company, WEHCO Media Inc., will proceed to obtain a everyday printed edition, at least for the close to future.) In mid-June, the Democrat-Gazette had actually not yet notified some subscribers in central Arkansas of the comes change, including those in Pulaski County, house to its biggest concentration of payment readers.
In March, a Pew Research center survey discovered that 71 percent the Americans believe that “their neighborhood news outlets space doing really or rather well financially.” In the rollout the the Democrat-Gazette’s brand-new plan, Hussman has told everyone who will hear that’s not the case. Publish advertising has actually cratered. According to Pew, full advertising revenue for every U.S. Papers was $48.67 billion in 2000. Through 2017, it had actually fallen come $16.47 billion.
The procedure of a big daily newspaper — paying the salaries and expenses of reporters, columnists, critics, photographers, copy editors, assignment editors, developers — has constantly been expensive, yet those prices weren’t reflect in the price when the majority of today’s newspaper readers an initial subscribed. Before the internet, mass-market advertising represented as lot as 80 percent of newspaper revenues; subscription rates merely covered circulation costs. Together targeted online declaring siphoned away much of that revenue, papers were forced to raise the price the subscriptions and per-copy sales.
Advertising revenue has decreased at the Democrat-Gazette for the critical 13 years. “And the not just us,” Hussman told me. “It’s everyone. All the advertising has actually basically gone to two companies: Google and Facebook. They’ve excellent a far better job than anyone else at getting world to sacrifice their privacy. Us don’t want civilization to sacrifice their privacy. We simply want castle to pay a subscription price that permits us to save a robust newsroom.”
In 2012, the Democrat-Gazette elevated its subscription rate from $16 per month to $28 and also its per-copy price from 50 cent to $1 daily and also $1.25 to $2 ~ above Sunday. It was a tough time to lean on readers. The internet adjusted the worth proposition the the daily newspaper. The web provided not just complimentary news alternatives, but also no-cost choices for sporting activities scores, share ads, TV listings and the like. In 2011, the Alliance because that Audited Media reported the the Democrat-Gazette had actually an median of 142,000 day-to-day print subscribers. 2 years later, after ~ the price increases had entered effect, that number had actually dropped come 129,000. For the an initial quarter the 2018, as soon as the digital replica conversion had just started, day-to-day print subscribers had dropped to 86,000.
Though profits had actually been decreasing for a decade, Hussman claimed the Democrat-Gazette lost money for the very first time in 20 years in 2018. He claimed he had actually reduced costs everywhere he might without undercutting the news operation.
The Democrat-Gazette has actually laid off newsroom staff in current years, but at a reduced rate than various other newspapers. Prior to the brand-new Orleans Times-Picayune was marketed to The Advocate previously this year, its newsroom employee had declined from 175 in 2012 come 65. The Commercial appeal in Memphis burned 75 percent the its staff over the critical 12 years, follow to its online staff directory. It had actually 138 in 2007; today, over there are only 31. The Cleveland level Dealer’s newsroom employee dropped native 340 2 decades back to 33 today. The Democrat-Gazette counts 106 newsroom employee today, far fewer than the 200 or so who operated there in 2007. Yet Ken Doctor, a media analyst who contributes to harvard’s Nieman Lab, stated the paper’s staff count remained higher than mean relative come the Democrat-Gazette’s subscription base.
Hussman said he considered saving money through halting expensive distribution to counties on the edges of the state, however ultimately decided it was necessary to proceed as among the critical dailies in the U.S. Covering and distributing the news across the state.
“A statewide reader is really an important to the state because there’s a real commonality of interest,” that said. “Everyone in Arkansas wants to recognize what’s walk on through the legislature, what’s going on through the governor. Those going on through Walmart, or Murphy Oil, or J.B. Hunt. Or what’s going on v the Razorbacks. … If friend don’t serve the whole state friend really lose something that provides a commonality, or something the everyone deserve to really emphasis on.”
In 2016, the Democrat-Gazette began experimenting through converting publish subscribers to digital delivery in Blytheville, maybe the most far-flung ar served by the little Rock-based file — and therefore the most expensive place to deliver a printed edition. Once the newspaper verified its 200 or so subscribers in Blytheville the replica iPad edition and asked if they would certainly be willing to switch, it got no takers. Newspaper reps changed in early on 2018 and pitched subscribers a distinct AT&T promotion that would provide them v an iPad in ~ a deep discount that $99. Only four subscribers i agreeed to convert to digital delivery.
Democrat-Gazette salespeople do the efforts one critical time: They readily available readers a totally free iPad as long as they ongoing subscribing and detailed one-on-one customer assistance to aid those readers who were unfamiliar through the devices. It set up appointments in ~ the local Holiday Inn and also sent customer business staff come the houses or enterprise of subscribers who couldn’t do it come the hotel. (The Democrat-Gazette found that offering continued delivery the a printed Sunday edition raised its conversion price after it had ended daily shipment in Mississippi County and other far-off counties. It may resume Sunday distribution to those areas in the future, stated Lynn Hamilton, the Democrat-Gazette basic manager and also president.)
“We had actually a 93-year-old man in Blytheville,” Hussman said. “He said, ‘Let me simply tell you first, i don’t have a cabinet phone. I don’t have a computer. I don’t understand what an iPad is. But I’ve been reading the record for 60 years, and also I desire to keep reading it, for this reason just present me what I must do.’ We acquired him all collection up, and also he said, ‘I think I’ve obtained this.’ for this reason he walk home and also calls united state the following day and also said, ‘Worked at the vacation Inn, doesn’t work-related at home.’ so we sent someone out to his house, and also he didn’t have actually internet service.” He obtained internet service so he could proceed to subscribe.
Hussman has actually said if he can acquire 70 percent of current subscribers to convert to digital shipment at the same rate they paid for printed delivery, the newspaper will return to profitability and avoid cuts to the newsroom. The savings obtained by remove the costs of newsprint, production and delivery will be sizable, yet it stays to it is in seen exactly how advertisers will certainly respond once the newspaper completes the digital transition.
Hussman originally said he’s willing to invest as lot as $12 million to purchase iPads, which retail for $329. (Hussman has noted that the daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City recently sold for $12 million.) but in late May, Hussman stated his costs may be much more like $10 million. Results thus far suggest that about 15 percent the subscribers who want to transform to digital delivery prefer to review it on their phone or laptop and decrease the iPad. The cost of sending out dozens of staffers across the state for considerable one-on-one sessions with subscribers at event centers and also on home and business calls might amount to an additional $2 million in nonrecurring costs, Hussman said.
Media analyst medical professional said he thought there was a certain group that older, monied readers who would embrace the iPad offer. “As part of a bigger strategy, i think it have the right to work if it’s cost-efficient,” the said. But Doctor said he didn’t view it together an overall strategy to replace shed print declaring revenue.
In so late May, i met up with my mommy in Searcy in ~ a small event center tucked behind a small Caesars restaurant. She was there to choose up her iPad. Once I arrived, a young customer company person directed us to a table where she gift my mom with a black, 9.7-inch iPad sheathe in an imitation leather situation with the Democrat-Gazette flag embossed in gold letter on the front.
“I’m walk to display you the app and also what it looks like,” she said us. It to be preloaded top top the iPad. The app looked choose the newspaper. She clicked on a story. It got bigger. She demonstrated how one accesses picture slideshows or videos, i m sorry are constructed into articles. She clicked a front page story on president Trump. A video started playing of the chairman talking. “I don’t think I’ll ever before push that on Trump,” my mommy quipped.
The rep prove an alternative in each article that would trigger an audio version; a robotic voice droned. She verified us the switch to publish an article. “How would certainly I connect this to my printer?” my mommy asked. “Do you understand if that wireless or Bluetooth?” the rep asked. My mom didn’t know. (It’s neither). We experienced the puzzle page, which includes several crossword, Sudoku and Jumble puzzle options, yet not the Cryptoquote.
I request if the agency would ever administer my mom with an update iPad. The rep said it would certainly every two years. (Erasing many of her subscription revenue every two years by purchasing countless iPads no sound like lot of a business plan, and also when i checked with Hussman, that laughed and also said, “No! I’d go broke doing that. Ns don’t recognize where that came from.”) i asked if the terms limited downloading certain apps or utilizing it in specific ways. No, the rep said, this is yours to do every little thing you want with. Will certainly you screen what she does on the iPad? i asked.
“Why would we?” she said. “That’s simply creepy.”
For my mom, who is 68 and somewhat technologically savvy — she had an early model that the iPad and also has long had an iPhone, i m sorry she provides to send text messages, sometimes even with emojis — the biggest allude of man came once the Democrat-Gazette rep talked about logging right into the Democrat-Gazette’s application vs. The Apple app store, i m sorry she would must do if she want to download other apps (to take benefit of the capability of the iPad past the e-newspaper). My mom didn’t recognize her password because that either and also didn’t at first understand the difference. The customer rep had actually helpfully printed out the login info to access the Democrat-Gazette’s app, and my mother left through hope the she’d composed down her Apple ID what at home.
I inquiry Hussman if his agency was all set to ar customer support calls not just around the app, however on any type of iPad-related question: how to fee it, how to affix to email, just how to include movies to Netflix.
“We haven’t had much the that, but we do aid people as soon as they call because we want them come love your iPad as component of their subscription,” he said. “What us hope is the they usage it for surfing the web, because that doing emails, because that listening come music, for producing photos and photo libraries. … us think it might reduce ours churn, or how numerous subscribers cancel your subscriptions. In the past, we provided them a file seven work a week with all that content in it. And now we’re providing them the exact same content and we’re providing them one iPad.
“So currently when lock call and say, ‘You know, I just don’t check out the record as much as I offered to. Ns think i’ll drop mine subscription.’ us say, ‘We’re sorry, i wish you’d continue. You’ll need to return the iPad.’
“ ‘Return the iPad? i don’t want to return the iPad. I usage it because that too countless things.’ ”
I asked Hamilton, the newspaper’s president and also general manager, what happens if the iPad routine doesn’t work. Is there a arrangement B?
He laughed and also said, “No. We’ve had the same conversation making use of the ax ‘plan B.’ us don’t have actually one. We don’t understand what happens.”
Hussman, who stays publisher of the Democrat-Gazette, appears energized by the iPad rollout, but he’s increasingly placed the future of his media empire in the hand of relatives. He’s still the chairman of WEHCO Media, which owns cable and also internet companies and 18 papers in Arkansas and neighboring states, however Nat Lea, his nephew by marriage, took over as CEO in 2016. Hussman’s daughter Eliza Hussman Gaines got a master’s degree in journalism and also has complied with a well-rounded newspaper-heir path, working as a take trip editor for the san Francisco Chronicle, assistant publisher of the Democrat-Gazette, editor the the warm Springs Sentinel-Record and also now as vice chairman of audience development for WEHCO, a position she summed up together “making certain we’re giving the best content possible in the right style in the appropriate places.”
In a letter come subscribers published in the may 18 version of the newspaper, Hussman claimed the most famous feature of the digital edition to be the capacity to make the type size bigger. No that, ns asked him, indicate a bigger, looming gift problem?
“Everyone knows that the newspaper subscriber base is older,” the said. “The one good thing around that is … they’re all living a lot longer than anyone thought they were going come live. That’s type of the silver lining in the cloud. Yes no concern we’ve got to get an ext younger readers. I just think, today, a lot of younger readers space not walk to choose up the habit of reading a publish newspaper. But they room going to look in ~ screens. They invest a most time looking in ~ screens.”
I told the that ns suspected the Democrat-Gazette would have actually success at convert older, trusted readers v disposable revenue to digital distribution on the iPad, yet I was doubtful that the facsimile execution — a slight update on a presentation format that’s been easily accessible since the at an early stage days that the net — would certainly compel everyone 50 or younger to come to be a brand-new subscriber.
“As lengthy as there’s the same content for cost-free elsewhere, that going to it is in difficult,” Hussman said. “What we’ve got to have actually is unique, appropriate content. If us do, ns think civilization will pay for it.”
We were talk at the start of the recent Arkansas river flooding. “Yesterday, we sent an plane up the Arkansas river Valley, taking photographs,” Hussman said. “Now we’re doing something new, i beg your pardon is slideshows and also videos. Instead of one photo, you’ve got all this multiple photos. This can be excellent in the precise replica version. However it can also be ~ above the phone. The unique content is ‘what does the flood really look favor in Toad Suck and also Morrilton and also Russellville?’ ”
The photos and also footage to be impressive, but if you have actually a on facebook or Twitter account — or went to the free websites for regional TV news stations, which have actually increased their day-to-day online news initiatives in current years — you understand flood pictures and also videos to be ubiquitous.
I request Hussman and Gaines why lock thought civilization subscribed come the Democrat-Gazette.
“It’s due to the fact that we’re the most complete resource of news info in the state of Arkansas,” Hussman said. He likewise talked about the paper serving as a watchdog. “Think around government,” that said. “We spend a many money on our taxes.” Is $34 a same amount to invest for a watchdog come make certain the government is safety those tax dollars appropriately? the asked.
Gaines said, “In the era of fake news, that really crucial to have actually a source for unbiased news whereby opinion is no involved. We have bumper sticker labels that say, ‘Support democracy. Subscribe to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.’ If we’re not covering these things, who’s going to carry out it?”
The newspaper has regulated to recruit talented young beat reporters and also retain a same amount the veteran journalists v institutional knowledge. They carry out thorough, educated coverage of municipal and state government, neighborhood schools, wellness care, the courts, and also on and also on. Their breadth that coverage is unsurpassed in the state. The doesn’t typical they don’t miss out on things. Between voluminous flood coverage, there was no cite of a 2,400-sow feeding procedure in Yell County that was inundated prior to all the hogs to be evacuated, most likely sending dead hogs and also hog waste from holding ponds into the river. The was an initial reported by the Arkansas Times’ Arkansas Blog.
The news hole, too, frequently relies heavily on story from various other WEHCO newspapers, specifically the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, hot Springs Sentinel-Record and also Texarkana Gazette. A reader in little Rock could not have actually much use for native of arrests or park projects in Texarkana or Bentonville, simply as a leader in Mena might not treatment about tiny Rock city spending plan fights. Because that years, the Democrat-Gazette published a state and also later little Rock edition with content tailored to every audience and late-breaking news and also sports scores in the tiny Rock edition. The practice ended June 17; currently readers in 63 counties will view the very same newspaper.
In his office, Hussman had actually a ridge of other newspapers that the slapped down onto his conference table. He confirmed a Raleigh (N.C.) News and also Observer from last year compared to a Democrat-Gazette from the same date. “This document is $50
But the various other sections in the paper don’t rather command the exact same value together the news. The sporting activities pages comprehensively sheathe the Razorbacks and also includes capsule coverage the high college sports, despite there’s significantly online options for consumers interested in that. The style section has actually seemed trapped in another time for years. It frequently devotes many of its space to cultural criticism of nationwide figures and also topics, a very competitive landscape. Funeral residences run obits online; classifieds were long back made useless by Craigslist, i beg your pardon now has actually competition from facebook Marketplace.
With his time less constrained by to run a large company, Hussman has said the he’s including himself much more with the news and also opinion departments. That writes editorials himself once or twice a month and makes suggestions for subject “once or double a week, sometimes more often,” that told me. He claimed he provides “comments top top news articles nearly daily, one of two people commending posts or making suggestions on exactly how they could have make them better.”
Some Arkansans could welcome the decline of the affect of Hussman and the Democrat-Gazette. The paper’s opinion page reflects his politics, which space conservative, disdainful of standard public education and also fulsomely pro-charter schools. Hussman, lengthy one the the wealthiest world in the state, was instrumental in the establishing of the growing eStem windy Charter colleges in tiny Rock and also is on the board of Arkansas Learns, a team that functions to advancement the charter agenda in the state.
The opinion web page columnists the don’t write about politics regularly delve into the mundane minutiae of their resides or in formulaic dispatches from tiny towns. The opinion section also might not be to her taste if you’re no old, white and also male. (To it is in fair, the Arkansas Times has actually not had a great track record of running columns by varied voices in publish or online.)
Some media experts have argued that there are no brand-new local newspaper readers. Yet Ken doctor notes the there are outfits past the large three national newspapers — The brand-new York Times, The wall surface Street Journal and The Washington article — that have the right to serve as models because that others. In May, The Boston Globe became the an initial local newspaper to have more paying subscribers in digital 보다 in print. The Minneapolis Star Tribune has also been farming digital subscriptions and also holding ~ above its core audience well, medical professional said. (Both newspapers take place to be own by neighborhood billionaires.)
The past couple of decades have been brutal for publish publishing, and also further disruptions surely lurk around the corner. No one has emerged a formula for papers to follow to ensure survival. However if there’s a course forward, doctor outlined what it can look like.
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“Ideally, girlfriend need resources to invest or reinvest. You’ve gained to make certain your contents proposition is great enough for the readers but it’s delivered, publish or digital. You’ve acquired to have actually the products, specifically the digital and also mobile products, that provide that content that’s state of the art. As soon as you look at The Washington Post and The brand-new York Times, they space doing that. Girlfriend don’t need to have their sources to perform it, yet you do need to have actually their thinking. And also you need to have actually the modern technology to convert those reader who involved you on mobile, which is 65 percent of news reading. The last component of the is yes, really skill. You require smart world to carry out this. In a decreasing industry, among the big problems is the it’s hard to hire smart people due to the fact that they watch it together a dying industry.”
Local publishers all over have had a tough time maintaining up to day with digital offerings, however it frequently seems the the Democrat-Gazette especially struggles to remain relevant.
On June 7, the Democrat-Gazette touted a “video editorial” on its front page and promoted it ~ above its webpage. In the video, Rex Nelson, the newspaper’s senior editor, who voice, my brother-in-law when memorably suggested, sounds like a hillbilly variation of Jimmy Stewart, uses a grand introduction: “This is a first for the Arkansas Gazette, the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in the 200-year background of the newspaper. It’s a video editorial.” A video clip of president Trump in ~ a D-Day 75th anniversary awareness in the uk plays. Then, Nelson, sitting in his office chair, reads an editorial ~ above the definition of D-Day.
The day ns interviewed Hussman and also his daughter Gaines, mine 8-year-old son, who is intimately familiar with the kid-friendly offerings that Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, request me to explain the ide of a television “channel.” ns struggled. However I realized I’d captured him in a moment of acquiescence, so ns did the obnoxious “when i was your age” point parents space obligated come do and told him about how i watched movies at home as a child: by pestering my parental to take it me come a keep where I’d browse physical videotapes that we would rent top top the problem that we would certainly return castle in a couple of days. That didn’t recognize what a videotape was, and also my saying it was favor a larger version of a cassette tape go nothing come clear the up.
Then ns told him the sometime later on this year the newspaper would certainly no much longer be yielded to our house. In one of my favorite images of him as a baby, he is in a high chair with a furrowed brow and also holding the Democrat-Gazette open with 2 hands. He and his younger brother used to fight over who would conference the paper from the stoop in the morning. At breakfast, still, they was standing in your chairs end their grain bowls to get a look at a photo or check out a headline that interests them. Faced with the looming finish of a printed day-to-day newspaper, my child had about the exact same reaction together he did as soon as he pressured me to define where babies come from: big-eyed incredulity complied with by, “Whaaaaat?”
I’m 39, which method that i remember the analog past, so much of which has been completely erased by new innovations, yet I’m also young enough to have actually not yet been left behind by technology. My son’s reaction reminded me of my earliest storage of a newspaper gift something the mattered: my parental bemoaning the fatality of the Arkansas Gazette in 1991. I’m sure my son and I identified the exact same thing: the finish of miscellaneous that us recognized, through daily ritual, as an institution. Mine now-deceased grandparents check out the newspaper the same method every day. Mine parents review the newspaper the same method every day. I read the newspaper the same way every day. The following generation won’t.