I think everyone ought to have a subscription to at least one paper as a matter of principle. I'm quite a snob on this point; I don't understand people who only get their news online (for free, usually, while the newspapers are making huge outlays to collect it) or worse still from television sources. Part of supporting democracy means supporting independent news media sources, and the best way to do that is by subscribing.
Why subscribe when they are giving away all the content for free?
Short answer: beacuse it's the right thing to do. Without local news organizations - serious news outlets, not those doing one story on "sexting" in local high schools, flogging it all day and running it as the lead on every television news show - government is less likely to be held accountable to us. Newspapers still have the most resources to put on a story, and if someone is doing something malfeasantly it's usually the local newspaper to break it. Subscribing to your local paper is a way to support local democracy from a financial standpoint, and in my opinion it is part of our responsibility as engaged citizens who wish to remain informed. Yes, you can certainly argue that if print media are too stupid to have a working business model then you shouldn't be expected to support them. I'm sympathetic to that, but you'd be wrong. We, the public, need them, for transparent and effective government, and to be the watchdogs we need them to be they need us to subscribe. So pony up.
You're busy, right? You can't get through the paper every day, and you feel guilty about wasting the money on something you don't read?
I don't get through the LA Times everyday, but I subscribe because subscriptions are the lifeblood of a newspaper. Advertising budgets and most other revenue streams are determined by the daily subscriptions, so it's not only what we get out of the paper, it's also what we're putting in: our investments in subscriptions says we are supportive of and committed to independent democratic watchdogs. And you spend money on more wasteful things from a dollar standpoint, I bet. Always finish that bag of spinach you buy? How much does that cost you? Never throw out any coffee creamer from the fridge door? I'm just saying. Call or go online and get a subscription, and challenge yourself to get a smaller entree next time you go out.
It's bad for the environment, you're saying, why be so wasteful?
Well, you have a point. I don't even look at 40% of the Sunday paper, it goes straight into the recycle bin. But it's just more pleasant to sit on my balcony in the morning with my coffee and my L.A. Times newspaper print edition than to stare at a computer screen. I can open it up at the counter at Al's in the Village in Carlsbad while I flirt with the waitresses and they ask me to read bits out to them. Or on the train. And newspaper is recyclable. I would submit that there are many things we do that are bad for the earth with no return whatsoever (and this means you, plastic water bottle users!), so while I'm aware of the environmental impact of the daily paper, I also think the trade off is well worth it. Quit plastic water bottles for a week and get a newspaper subscription for six months; carry your own bag to the store and get a subscription for a year! At least none of your newspapers will end up in the Great Pacific Gyre.
My local paper is just awful, you're saying, so why should I get it?
Fine, then get one that's sort of local. Or not local at all. In the interest of full disclosure, I do not subscribe to the San Diego Union Tribune even though I now live in San Diego. If the LA Times were not at local rates here and didn't give the local weather and some local politics then I would subscribe, even though the U-T is an awful, awful paper. I don't think that a political slant inherently makes a paper bad - I read the Guardian - so I don't say this because it's "a bit to the right of Attila the Hun" as a friend in L.A. memorably put it. It's just not a serious, credible source, in my opinion; it's glib, banal, and brief, and I can't imagine anyone needing more than 45 minutes to read it, cover to cover, and that's during football season. So maybe don't subscribe to your local paper but subscribe!
But, you may be thinking, the economy is in the crapper and I can't afford it!
It may be cheaper than you think. The LA Times is $3/week for a daily subscription for six months (and think of all the coupons!). If you get a full year, it's a buck a week if you live in SoCal. Are you kidding? One dollar a week is nothing to support democracy. In Honolulu it's more, about $3.50 a week for the daily paper for O'ahu residents, but everything is more, and that's the highest subscription rate I found for daily delivery - Atlanta, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Portland, Denver, Chicago, Philly and Louisville are all less. So go subscribe.
Newspapers matter, and are still sources for more in depth news than other media, and I've been home sick for a week watching TV "news" so I feel confident saying that. No one is saying to rely on just one for all of your news, but they matter, so get one.
Maybe as a gift to democracy you could consider signing up for your local paper? Tell them BrensLeftCoast sent ya, and that'll get you... nothing at all, actually. Just save me the crossword.