During the weekend, I did something I haven't done in years. I read the paper. A real newspaper, in hard copy, in ink, from front to back; I trawled every section, even the commercial real estate and obituaries. When finished, I sighed. It was an exhalation of pure pleasure. I was content, pleased – relaxed, even.
It was the weekend paper and I felt across most of the issues of the day. I was full, satisfied. Satiated in a way I never feel after reading the online news each morning over breakfast on my iPad where the click-bait headlines shriek sex, drugs and politics in short bursts of bite-sized snippets downed before the commute beckons me relentlessly out the door.
And I realised that I missed this pleasure. To spend time and read the weekend paper is now a rare thing for me. In days past, however, it formed the anchor for my entire weekend, without which those 48 hours were cast adrift. Without fail, the very first task on a Saturday was to get the local paper for the adverts – jobs, houses, the gig list – and the major state newspaper before it sold out for everything else. My arms ached from the weight as I walked home from the corner store.
The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times were all dear friends who travelled with me over the years. They filled my magpie brain with notions larger than the rural lands that surrounded me. Every weekend, they opened me to the arts, to travel, cultural mores and mires, politics, social issues and personal stories; to writers I'd never heard of and places I didn't know existed.
I would spread the papers out over the kitchen table, elbow family and friends out of the way, and sink in. Settle, as my mind wandered at will over the latest restaurant craze, the issues distracting the Canberra press gallery and where the cheapest airfares would take you, if only you had a spare couple of grand. If only you weren't a country girl with five siblings and a HECS debt akin to a home-loan deposit.
The weekend paper pulled back the curtain on a window into other worlds and I always came away drunk from the view. The letters to the editor, the (hopefully strong) editorial opinion, the long-form journalism, the social pages, the Leunig cartoon, the tenders list, the "Two of Us" and the weekend quiz in the magazine; the only pages skipped were the sports – no matter the headline, I couldn't pretend interest.
The paper filled a need I didn't know yet to name. For years growing up in north-east Victoria, or living in the upper Blue Mountains during my thirties, I would soak in The Age or The Sydney Morning Herald on a Saturday, poring over every page, stretching the stories out to last the weekend.
I felt I knew certain writers and built a picture of them in my mind; I relished their weekend soapbox. I lamented not being able to get to that art exhibition in the city or see that play or watch that film, but somehow I always felt better for knowing they existed; that there was art being made and enjoyed and people critiquing and thinking and being discomforted.
The weekend paper made my small world feel bigger. It was a friend to me, too, on lonely weekends when the world seemed a harsh place. It was, in many ways, a lifeline.
I felt a sense of community and the wealth of knowing there were people living lives both interesting and different. I viewed the drama of property being bought and sold, and considered in some depth what the farmers were dealing with. I toured the business section. I raked over the fashion and social pages. I always saved the magazine for last. I did the quiz. I relished quality writing that flung an invitation to follow a story that I originally had no interest in but that by the end had prodded me awake, blinking back into the daylight. I stained pages with coffee. And then had enough kindling to light the log fire that warmed my Blue Mountains cottage for the rest of the week; taking the staples out of the magazine with a curse.
Now I live in the city suburbs. As my personal narrative arcs mid-life, I feel anxious at what that means and reel from fears conjured by the news on the commute home. Reading the paper today reminded me I missed that tether to a larger world. The digital news is sometimes too narrow; so bitter.
In the organic act of holding the pages, I felt again the weight and pleasure of stories in a visceral way. More importantly, I allowed time. I wandered anew. I remembered there is more to the news than click-bait. Today, I was the reader of a newspaper, not the consumer of a news bite. And I was reminded there is a difference.
Katherine Beard is a lawyer and writer.