Back in November I wrote a commentary for WAMC about the clear and ever-present danger of unlicensed delivery e-bikes rushing along New York City streets. They can reach speeds of almost thirty miles an hour. A listener suggested I also write an op-ed piece on the subject for a city newspaper, whose residents are forced to dodge these culprits on a daily basis.
So I did so for the New York Daily News. After the screed was published I picked up a copy of the tabloid at my local supermarket and, boy!, has the Daily News changed. In its heyday, which also happened to be the heyday of print journalism, the tabloid sold over two million copies a day and, between articles and advertisements, was approximately as thick as a shag rug.
To call the paper a shadow of its former self would be a gross exaggeration. The Daily News today makes the National Enquirer look like the Economist. It’s as substantial as a supermarket flier. Nonetheless, I wanted to be able to access my story online, but found my ambitions thwarted by the newspaper’s paywall. Also, I was curious to receive reader feedback, if there was any.
So I subscribed to the Daily News website. What I didn’t quite anticipate, though I should have known, was that my inbox would be flooded with breaking news as often as a dozen times a day.
The Daily News always fancied itself as “New York’s Hometown Newspaper” and tried to live up to its motto with crime stories galore and columnists like Jimmy Breslin. I suppose the newspaper still regards that as its mission because I’m relentlessly being bombarded with dystopian headlines such as “First NYC murder of 2023,” “Duck sauce, death and decapitation,” and “Driver told 3 young sons to buckle up before running down his wife.”
I’m proud to call myself a news junkie but after a several weeks diet of death and destruction I’ve reached my breaking point. I’ve now tried to unsubscribe from the Daily News website on multiple occasions. But my requests have been ignored. I can’t tell if their unsubscribe button is just for show, experiencing technical difficulties, or if this is all some sort of devious marketing strategy to retain its online subscribers.
I suppose I could attempt a trusted 20th Century analogue solution by picking up the phone, hoping to reach a live human being in their subscription department, and pleading for mercy. But the bigger problem is that I went for the bait in the first place. I subscribe to almost a dozen news sites. The latest is the Institute for the Study of War, so I can get up to the minute reconnaissance on the Russian military’s failures in Ukraine.
I’m addicted to doom scrolling. As I’ve previously mentioned I’m a news junkie. Also news, whatever it’s hi-tone pretensions, or mine, is a form of entertainment disguised as seriousness. And finally, keeping updated on Donald Trump’s latest assaults on democracy, Vladimir Putin’s war crimes, or this week’s bomb cyclone falsely makes you feel part of the conversation.
Let’s not fool ourselves. With the possible exception of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or my local road commissioner responsible for calling out the snowplows, there aren’t a whole lot of people, myself included, who need constantly to refresh their New York Times or Weather Channel apps.
How can I make such a blanket statement? Easy. What I’ve discovered is that if I turn off my phone for several hours or better yet misplace it for several days the world continues to muddle on without my outrage. The latest Supreme Court decision may be sending us spiraling towards theocracy and our failure to curb greenhouses gases may be accelerating planetary extinction; but none of that is going to happen faster or slower, let alone me doing anything about it, because I failed to refresh my New York Times app and missed Maggie Haberman’s latest hot take.
This being my first column of 2023 I could strive for timeliness by making it my New Year’s resolution to go cold turkey on technology, or at least the 24-hour news cycle. I suppose I could also stop drinking. But I’m not going to do either. What’s the fun in that? Besides, somebody’s got to keep scanning the horizon and checking behind every rock for imaginary predators. It may as well be me, as much as my wife suggests I get off my phone.
None of this solves my problem with the Daily News and whatever psychological damage their blood and guts coverage is doing to my psyche. They probably won’t take me seriously until I give them a call.
Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found be found on Substack.
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.