I remember my 13th birthday. It was a big deal for a boy growing up in the rural south. I was at last a teenager, whatever that meant. It was that time when I bonded and struggled with my parents, my friends and sometimes with myself. I remember one of the gifts my parents gave me for that special birthday. My own subscription to the area newspaper, The Dothan Eagle.
By that point I was involved in after-school activities and would often arrive home about the same time as my father. We both immediately wanted to read the newspaper, something I clearly inherited from my dad. Perhaps to avoid our conflicts and perhaps to foster my love of information, two newspapers began to be delivered each day to our home. No more fighting about who got the paper first. I still consider it one of the most thoughtful gifts I ever received.
With the brief exception of my years in college, I have read newspapers almost every day. When we moved to Donalsonville, the house came with an Albany Herald newspaper mailbox that was discreetly hidden in the shrubs along the driveway. Ironically, we never were able to have the Albany paper delivered, but for many years The Dothan Eagle was put into their competitor’s box.
At the same time, I started a subscription to The Wall Street Journal which was delivered by mail, and I religiously purchased The Atlanta Journal & Constitution from the paper box at the post office each morning when I picked up the mail. The cost was one dollar in quarters.
Eventually the home delivery of The Eagle ended. The Wall Street Journal came every day to the post office. I purchased the Donalsonville News, Albany Herald, and Bainbridge Post-Searchlight from the paper boxes located at Hardee’s. As the locations of our Hardee’s Restaurants expanded, we subscribed to every local newspaper where we had a store. We had to get a bigger mailbox.
Eventually, I was fortunate to purchase the Donalsonville News from the legendary Waldo “Bo” McLeod. I began to see a different side of the newspaper business and grew to appreciate the differences between national, regional, and local newspapers.
Nearly four years ago, Mary Lou and I retired to Auburn. The first thing I did was subscribe to the Opelika-Auburn News. I was pleasantly surprised that my subscription to The Wall Street Journal would be delivered in the same bag each day, expertly thrown in the center of our driveway each morning near the street.
My routine became part of my retirement. Each morning I would walk out to get those two papers, walk back, cook my breakfast, and sit by the windows at our dining table. I read each page while I ate my breakfast. It was the first time in my life that I had dedicated time without interruption to reading the news.
The announcement recently came without warning. The Opelika-Auburn News is moving to three days a week publication schedule, following many of the other leading papers of our region. More disturbing was that home delivery for both the News and the WSJ was being discontinued. My papers will now be delivered mid-afternoon when the mail comes to the box at the end of our driveway. That is a bit late to enjoy reading the papers with your bacon and eggs.
More than most, I am aware of the changing dynamics of the newspaper industry. Social media has become a large source of news for the American public, though there is not necessarily any process to make sure that news is correct or valid. Advertising, the lifeblood of any type of publication, has changed along with the ways that we purchase goods.
Nevertheless, weekly newspapers, at least, are the primary and often only source of news for what is happening in rural and small-town America. It is the only place you can find out what is happening in your community, read about your grandchildren, follow local sports, or even find out who recently passed away. For that reason, I have high hopes for the continued success of the Donalsonville News, Post-Searchlight and other community based weekly newspapers.
I am uncertain what I will do to adjust my morning routine. Reading the news on my iPad is not the same experience as feeling the newsprint as I turn the pages. Plus, it now takes 16 quarters to purchase our local Sunday newspaper from a box.
I will find a way to read newspapers, as I have my entire life. In the meantime, I am thankful for the paperboys who have faithfully delivered the news to my homes over the past 55 years of my life. I will miss you.
Dan Ponder can be reached at email@example.com