Fate of Printed Pages

February 26, 2009

I spent a long time on the print side of newspapers and a good number of years starting and nurturing their online offspring. These days I’m online much of each day and night but still have this thing for the printed page.

It began, like many things, with a childhood ritual: plodding barefoot to the end of our driveway in Maitland, Florida and fetching the morning paper. As a kid I also fell in love with magazines, especially Life, which opened the world to me in pictures.

I recalled this because of a sequence of events that started with a Craigslist ad that I posted recently. I had saved a few years  of magazines that consume much of my leisure reading: New Yorker, Atlantic, and Harper’s. Thinking I might be able to sell the magazines and free up some shelf space, I arranged them in neat, chronologically ordered stacks.

The asking price quickly dwindled from 30 to 10 cents a copy because few people responded. Those who did and promised to check out the magazines never showed. The same thing happened when I offered them for free. All those well-chosen words for well-crafted stories, unwanted.

So I hauled them to Hollywood ReRuns, which buys and sells old magazines. Its basement is a treasure trove of  thousands of issues dating back decades. The musty smell of paper reminded me of newsrooms, only stronger. The guy in charge of the magazines, hair bulging from beneath a ball cap, had little need for recent issues and took maybe 50 in exchange for a $7 store credit.

I used part of the credit to buy a Time magazine published the week I was born. What I hoped for but didn’t find was a single momentous news story that I could forever link to my birth. Among other things, the issue featured photos of grim-faced U.S. soldiers fighting in Korea, a story about the debut of Edward R. Murrow’s Hear It Now radio show, billed as “drama for the ear,” and this terse gem:

In Washington, D.C., the Post Office Department opened a letter addressed to Santa Claus: “Please send me two atom bombs, a couple of pistols and a good sharp knife.”

All the magazines the store didn’t buy ended up back home, enduring an overnight stay in the recycling bin. The next morning I sat at my computer screen, a few clicks from every edition of every major magazine, and watched the garbage truck take away all those words on  printed pages, pages destined to be reborn, blank and waiting.