1/20/2020
Section A

As much as I love newspapers, I will have to admit it has been a while since I bought myself a copy.

Half of it is down to preferences. I grew up with the Inquirer, so I prefer to buy the Inquirer. As a kid, I had the chance to read the big three national newspapers, but I always thought the Bulletin was staid and boring and, well, old, although considering how they've made a bit more effort to freshen things up recently, it's now the Star who looks stuck in the times. And you can't make me buy other newspapers unless I'm really curious about it.

Half of it is down to lifestyle, both mine and everybody else's. There used to be a guy who delivers the newspaper around the subdivision I live in, but he stopped roughly five years ago, or perhaps more. There's at least one place here that sells them, but in my case I'll have to walk from one end of the subdivision to another. Sure, call it my morning walk, but lately I've felt the urge to start working the moment I wake up, so I can get most things done by lunchtime.

At least there's a place that sells them. Back at the flat in the middle of Metro Manila, I honestly have no idea where I can buy a newspaper, unless I want to buy that one tabloid the 7-Eleven downstairs sells. And, well, no. I did say half of this is down to preferences. I don't want to buy a newspaper other than what I'm used to, and half to get used to how it looks like, how it smells like, how it reads like. You might not want to buy a newspaper at all, because, well, why should you? Everything is online nowadays, and that's for free. Or, well, "free", but who cares about that, right?

Last Friday, I bought my first newspaper in a while. The Inquirer, of course. I was at a Mercury Drug accompanying Shalla, who was buying some supplies after work. It was an impulse decision, admittedly, but then I also had this fantasy of having a newspaper subscription when I fully move into the flat. I haven't, so I haven't. This, for now, will have to do.

I'll be the first to admit that I haven't always read everything on a newspaper. Well, that, I guess, is to be expected, because there's a lot of things on there at any given day, and these days chances are you've already read up on it online the day (or night) before. But that day, I at least decided to read most of the opinion columns, and read most of the major stories on section A. And then, section B, the business section, a section I never thought I'd understand. And on and on it went, skipping the lifestyle bits (I care little about fashion) and ranting aloud about why we're making a big deal out of SB19 cracking a Billboard chart that has nothing to do with how well their music is doing.

But that half-hour spent leafing through a newspaper felt rejuvenating, or perhaps miraculous. After a while of relying online for the latest news - and consider that I'd only read from the aforementioned newspapers, or other major media outlets that have at least proven their ability to deliver the news - it felt like my IQ increased. And no, this is not a plug for the Inquirer; I'm sure I'd say the same thing if I grew up with a different newspaper. It's just that, well, taking the time to read a paper, to consider what happened and what's going to happen, whether certain or otherwise - I felt like I picked up much, much more.

Well, what do you pick up online, anyway? It's still the wilderness, because nobody has figured out the best way to earn money from there. (I mean, other media outfits around the world have had success with different paywalls and donation models and all that stuff, but again, this is the Philippines - nobody wants to pay, and everybody wants to benefit.) The best model we have is to sell the number of people who visits the site to advertisers, and to get more people to visit, you have to appeal not just to their innate need to know, but their deepest, darkest emotions. Trigger their furies before telling them the facts, if you are willing to tell them anything. The newspapers aren't exactly willing to do that. The broadcast outfits have made an awkward compromises. Everybody else playing pretend journalist - the bloggers claiming the inside scoop, or more often than not, a perspective on affairs that aligns with the reader's - have swooped in with headlines that stoke our anger at people who don't care for animals, or for the "change" this government has undeniably done.

I picked up the Inquirer the next day. I had a meeting - on a Saturday, yes - and as the designated gofer I had to buy ice to keep the drinks cool. (We really need a fridge at the office. Why they refuse to buy it, I'll never know.) The 7-Eleven nearby sold the Inquirer, so I got it, and read it while waiting for the others to arrive, and again when I got back to the flat. Same thing. I felt like I understood more than if I relied on my social media feeds and the Internet in general to know what's going on.

But then I realized why we are where we are. Saturday's section A came in at just twelve pages. I think only three of those pages had ads. When we frequently bought the newspaper back when I was younger, section A averaged 24 pages, and it was filled with ads. Sure, ads are never fun, but that's how a newspaper earns its money - money that it, ideally, reinvests in its ability to do proper journalism. In my job, I've had to contend with people who are only willing to advertise online, because, they say, nobody picks up a newspaper (or a magazine, for that matter) and reads it. And besides, why limit yourself to the hundreds of thousands of people who still buy a newspaper, when you can advertise to millions of duplicate and burner accounts on Facebook?

And so, we are where we are: a world where there are only two options and anybody who's in the middle ground must be made to choose or die.

And your responses...

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