I had intended my break from social media to last a few weeks. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d make it more than a few days.
That would have been fine. I knew even a short hiatus would buy me some time during the busy start of the school year. But when the semester wrapped up, I still hadn’t gone back to my old ways.
Instead, I’ve reinvested some of the time I’d been spending on social media into my local newspaper. I’m better for it. And that’s why, as The Salt Lake Tribune distributes its final daily print edition today, I believe we need this news source, and those like it, more than ever, not simply as providers of news but as curators of content — a feature originally imposed by the medium of print.
Some newspapers may promise to publish “all the news that’s fit to print,” but the reality has always been the publication of whatever news fits in print. A few stories per page. A few pages per section. A few sections per paper. A paper a day.
On the day I wrote these words, The Tribune published about 20 locally written articles, about 10 commentaries, and a roughly equivalent number of news and opinion pieces that were produced elsewhere.
That’s a lot of content. But it’s not endless content. And that’s an important distinction, for social media doesn’t work this way. Indeed, the endlessness is the point. And wrath, resentment and rage are some of its key products — for these experiences keep the bad times scrolling.
At the very least, it is good to take breaks from this madness.
When journalist Jana Riess stepped away from her social feeds over the holidays, a few years ago, something became very clear. “I hadn’t realized how much I needed a respite from moral outrage,” she wrote.
Before her break, Riess figured she was encountering negative news via social media just a few times a day. “Now I realize it is much, much more often,” she wrote, “and that it is far more toxic to my mental and emotional health than I would have admitted.”
Where is the line, Riess asked, “between being an informed citizen — which is more important now than ever — and being a person who perpetuates anger 24/7?”
One possible answer: in the pages of a daily newspaper.
It’s not that local news is always positive. Much to the contrary, The Tribune’s reporters and columnists are quite good at pointing out instances of hypocrisy, exploitation of power and abuses of social norms. The resulting articles may incite ire, frustration and dismay.
But at the end of the day, there is an end to the daily. Print’s constraints force editors to make regular decisions about what is most interesting and most important in service to their readers.
Do papers fulfill the curation role perfectly? No. Historically, and still presently, newspapers overwhelmingly privilege the experiences of already privileged people. But the solution to this challenge isn’t more content; it’s more equitable curation.
This role, and this goal, need not disappear when newspapers no longer print on paper. Yes, some of the inherent limitations that made curation a necessity will go away, but news organizations that started as print publications aren’t likely to become endless scrolls of content anytime soon.
The Tribune’s website, for example, will still provide a curated selection of content its editors believe is of greatest value to their readers. The Tribune has also committed to continue to design an “e-edition” of the daily paper, which won’t leave ink on your fingers but will retain most of the other qualities of the bygone daily.
That’s where I will be starting my day tomorrow.
Matthew D. LaPlante is a former Salt Lake Tribune reporter and an associate professor of journalism at Utah State University, where he teaches news writing, narrative nonfiction, opinion writing, and crisis reporting. He is the author of “Superlative: The Biology of Extremes.”