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Mark Walsh: An elegy for newsprint from an old paperboy

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) Copies of The Salt Lake Tribune newspaper are shown on April 20, 2016, in Salt Lake City. The Salt Lake Tribune will stop printing a daily newspaper after nearly 150 years at the end of the year and move to a weekly print edition.

The recent changes afoot at our venerable local paper, although not completely unexpected, have me contemplating the impending loss of a personal tradition involving the quiet, hours-long, tactile experience of the Sunday edition going back over 40 years since I first migrated to this pretty, great state.

As I live just outside the boundary of the core distribution area that will continue to enjoy home delivery, it seems that my extended Sunday communion with the “Independent Voice of Utah” will be curtailed, soon to be replaced by the simulated turning of pages on a screen, absent the rustling of actual newsprint or the occasional residue of incompletely dried ink on my fingertips.

That sensation reminds me of my own minor, though formative, experience in the newspaper business in my youth. I was raised among the leafy confines of a New England suburb, and became involved for a time in the heady world of print media as many others of my time did — as a paperboy, responsible for the daily pre-dawn delivery of newspapers to my neighborhood and beyond by bicycle, counterbalancing a heavy canvas bag of papers slung over my shoulder on a hilly route uphill both ways.

I wasn’t hired for the position, but inherited it from a friend who was “retiring” just after the lucrative Christmas season, and before the greater portion of a northern winter, long before the tempering effects of climate change.

The little training I received dictated that papers could not be left on lawns or driveways; I was instructed and expected to carefully place each paper in a protected location out of the frequently inclement weather, preferably inside the ubiquitous storm doors of subscribers. Many days, the papers were fresh-enough off the press that handling them left an inky haze on my hands, and a permanent smudge inside my paper-bag.

Another one of the responsibilities of the position was to collect customers’ weekly subscription, making my rounds one more time in the light of day after school, exchanging a perforated, dated chit from a small ring-bound collection notebook for payment received.

For a preteen in the 1960s, this was just about the only paying job in town other than scrounging up empty, glass soda bottles for the 2 cent return fee. Taking on that responsibility and enduring those challenging conditions at a young age seems to me now the equivalent of an adolescent MBA, and helped instill in me a work ethic that continues to serve me to this day.

It seems that this kind of experience is rare for contemporary youths, but back then was considered common and “character-building.”

So, it has been with some consternation that I have long noted the haphazard delivery of my own paper here in Utah, flung out of a moving vehicle in the general direction of the end of my driveway — some 100 feet from my front porch, oftentimes hours later than expected. So, maybe the inexorable transition to a digital paper will not be all bad. Rain/snow/or dark of night should have little effect on the timely broadcast of kilobytes of news to the screen of my choice. Countless trees will be spared.

My wife has made a habit of using an e-reader on a near-daily basis. Maybe I can do the same, but the paperboy in me wishes I didn’t have to.

Mark Walsh

Mark Walsh is a builder and curmudgeon-in-training from Midway.