Why I love paper

It’s a fight to the death: As the digital revolution marches on, and more and more people do their reading on user-friendly digital devices, the end of paper’s 500-year reign seems to be at hand.

Here at The Jewish Journal, we don’t take this development lightly. We have a thriving Web site and great mobile apps, but, as with other newspapers, our paper continues to be our bread and butter. Digital revolution aside, advertisers still prefer to see their ads on paper — and who can blame them? No banner on a digital screen can compete with the power of a printed ad you can hold in your hands and that has the same visual prominence as editorial content.

For readers, though, it’s a different story.

Newspapers can’t compete with the extraordinary immediacy and convenience of the digital universe, where copy changes can happen instantly and at virtually no cost, and readers can surf billions of sites to their heart’s content. Whereas the printed word is permanent, the digital word is restless. It never stops moving. This is changing the way we read. Many experts don’t even call it reading — they call it scanning.

In this restless new world of surfers and scanners, does paper stand a chance?

As it happens, I got one answer to my question on New Year’s Eve, after I took my kids to see the movie “New Year’s Eve” and one of them asked, “Can we go to Toppings now?” (Talk about lifecycle events. Before procreating became a big part of my life, on any New Year’s Eve I might be slipping a $50 bill to the doorman of Studio 54 in New York City. Now I go to Toppings for kosher frozen yogurt).

Of course, I said yes. But little did I know that waiting for me at Toppings would be a subject for a future column: an abandoned newspaper, lying humbly on one of the counters. While my kids were debating the relative merits of pistachio, butter pecan and vanilla cheesecake, I looked at the paper and thought: “Hmm, a little cerebral boost to spark up my New Year’s Eve. Why not?”

It turns out the paper was the December issue of The Boiling Point, a monthly publication produced by the students of the Modern Orthodox Shalhevet High School.

Well, maybe I was desperate for intellectual stimulation (sorry, kids), but I ended up taking the paper home and reading it cover to cover.

There were at least 30 interesting stories inside: a new Sephardic minyan at the school; the “slippery slope” of marijuana; a symposium with three local rabbis discussing the evolution of the Los Angeles Orthodox community; a school visit by 1960s civil rights “Freedom Rider” activist Earnest “Rip” Patton Jr.; a dissection of the tradition of gift-giving at Chanukah; the national scandal of cheating on the SATs; the Friday afternoon school tradition of “song, spirit and a whiff of chulent”; an environmental program in Israel to create a sustainable world, called “eco Israel”; a visit to a retro-design exhibition at LACMA; a student’s report from Occupy L.A. and whether anti-Semitism played a role; the modern relevance for teenagers of the school production of “Pride and Prejudice”; a lively debate on the merits of the school’s new advanced Judaic studies program, and so on. 

However great the content was, though, what got me was this: I would never have stumbled on all these stories had they not been printed on paper. Yes, paper — paper that I could see, hold, touch, feel and take home.

You can’t stumble on a digital screen and take it home with you. Digital screens can’t be coddled and treasured. They’re virtual, not real. They carry electronic flickers that can come and go at any moment.

Words printed on a page, however, are not flickers. They’re evidence of a commitment. A commitment by a group of writers and editors that says: “We have thought all these words through and are putting our ink where our mouths are. We believe in these words strongly enough that we are ready to make them permanent.”

This seriousness comes through to the reader, who, in turn, takes the words more seriously. Also, because printed words don’t come with “related links” that keep sucking you away from the main story, you’re more likely to read the whole story. Imagine that.

So, does all this mean paper will survive? Hardly. Some experts predict that newspaper readership will drop by one-third within 15 years and eventually become marginal, but for papers like The Jewish Journal, there’s a silver lining: Many experts also predict that local community papers with a well-defined niche will be a lot more resilient. The way I see it, it’s hard to beat the intimacy of a community paper — and, let’s face it, the digital screen can’t compete with paper on intimacy.

But maybe the best reason not to sit shivah yet for paper is its cutting-edge technology, which is perfect for impatient people who want everything now. Think about it: Here is a device that never crashes, needs no plugs, batteries, chargers or Wi-Fi codes, and loads instantly. 

And as if that weren’t enough, you’re even allowed to use it on Shabbat.