Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The best 50 cents I've spent was on a newspaper

Can you recall the best 50 cents you’ve ever spent?

50 cents? Probably not. But I figured I’d ask anyways.

Well, not to brag or anything, but I can.

It was a sunny and mild late-April morning two years ago, the kind of fraudulent spring day where you know you shouldn’t be wearing only a t-shirt but you do anyways, just to prove to Mother Nature that you can.

I was running a couple of minutes late to my early-morning history class that day, which usually wouldn’t be much of a problem, except I had one of those communist, this-is-the-real-world type teachers.

Alright, maybe communist is a little too harsh. But you get my drift.

You know, the teachers that stop everything and just stare at the helpless, sleep-walking college kids that stumble into the classroom late, as if the other kids with the half-closed, droopy eyelids really care about the point trying to be made.

A couple of minutes turned into a few minutes which turned into a few more minutes and as I pulled into my parking spot at 9:28 – class started at 9:20, don’t ask how I remembered the time – a light bulb turned on in my head:

My article!

The night before, after two long weeks of waiting, I was finally called on to write a prep sports lead story, my first work to find a home in the pages of the Free Press.

Just as quickly as I had pulled in, I reversed out and found the nearest gas station, which wasn’t quite as near as I thought.

I dropped the clerk two quarters, got into my car and scourged the sports section for my article.

Five pages in, there it was. Page 6-D. Top left corner. By Anthony Fenech, Special Writer.

I probably read it a good five times before I left that gas station, and to be perfectly honest, calling it an article would be very generous. It was more like a glorified blurb.

But it didn’t matter to me, not one bit.

I remember my first journalism teacher in college once telling the class, “There’s nothing like seeing your name in print.”

I never fully understood what he meant until that moment.

Which is why yesterday’s news about the two major Detroit newspapers cutting back four days of home-delivered print copies, instead opting for an online version, put another chink into my armored future of becoming a newspaper columnist.

I’m not here to throw numbers around, analyze decisions and ponder what this could mean to the future of print journalism across the country. There’s enough information out there and frankly, I’m not educated enough on the subject to do that.

I’m here to back those gray-paged, ink-filled companions that keep us company at the breakfast table, on the john, and whenever we’re waiting around somewhere with nobody to talk to.

The internet has all but taken the nostalgia away from newspapers, reporting the news faster and quicker, before tomorrow’s paper even hits the press.

But there’s a certain authenticity that still remains about reading the dailies. Whether it be the ink-smeared hands, the newspaper smell, or knowing that the articles you’re reading were keyed away under extreme pressure of deadline, it’s the most genuine form of media out there.

For only 50 cents, you have a day’s worth of reading at your fingertips wherever you go.

Tonight, I am covering a high school basketball game and tomorrow morning, as is tradition, I’ll find a yellow Free Press newsstand and drop in 50 cents, heading straight to the Sports section for my article.

This time though, unlike all of the rest, a small cloud of doubt will creep into the back of my mind, telling me to savor the moment, because one day my trips to the newsstand will be replaced by clicks on a website.

And when that day comes, I’ll think back to the best 50 cents I ever spent, 50 cents that not only cemented my dreams but somehow wiggled my way out of a tardy.

“You’re a half hour late,” my teacher said that day.

I didn’t have a response. But I did have the newspaper in my hand. And I felt pretty cool about that.

He ordered me to sit in the hall.

As I sat there, aimlessly thinking of an excuse that he would buy, throwing the usual traffic jam or car trouble excuses out the window, I saw the newspaper and figured, why not?

“What’s going on here?” he said with the door open just wide enough that kids inside could probably hear.

“Uh … nothing,” I stammered.

“My article is in this newspaper so I drove around looking to find it.”

“Show it to me,” he said, assured that I was making stuff up.

So I did. And he motioned to get inside the class. I spent the next hour wondering if I would get that paper back.

Well, I did. And then spent an uncomfortable ten minutes with him talking about printing presses and five-cent newspapers and about how he used to deliver the paper in the brittle cold.

There’s nothing like seeing your name in print.

Unless, of course, you’re late for class. Then there’s really nothing like seeing your name in print.

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