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Brian Benton

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A Bedtime Story For The Ages

Posted: 04/16/2012 9:24 am

A few days ago I was lying awake in bed, my dad sitting in a chair next to me reading aloud. I'm six months away from going to college, but here I was, listening to my father read me a bedtime story.

It was a Sunday. I lay under my covers waiting to say my final goodnights to my family when my dad came into my room. He sat down, we talked for a bit, and then he began reading from a folded-up copy of the New York Times.

I closed my eyes and just let my dad read. His words surrounded me and for the next 10 minutes I just listened.

The story we read was about baseball. It was an op-ed piece adapted from upcoming novel. But that's unimportant. What matters is how it brought an 18-year-old boy and his father together in a way similar to how Winnie the Pooh had 12 years ago.

As much as I loved Winnie the Pooh though, this was different. Newspapers have a certain timelessness, one that not even the greatest storybook can match. The words in a paper may lose their relevance, but the concept of a newspaper lives on. The United States wouldn't be what it is if we couldn't wake up each morning and know that all the news fit to print would be waiting on our driveway on sheets of starchy newsprint.

On Monday, 551-day-old photo-sharing app Instagram sold for a billion dollars, while the 116-year-old New York Times is valued at $967 million. The Wall Street Journal's Dennis Berman pointed this out on the day of Instagram's sale, presumably making a point that print media could be losing the race against technology. But he may have unintentionally proved just the opposite.

The New York Times is 116 years old. It stood the test of time in a way that not even the greatest social network will be able to do. In 100 years, fathers are not going to sit next to their sons and read them tweets.

Technology has its place. It keeps us connected and informed. It's what is letting me share my thoughts right now. But it also has its limitations.

When you look at a list of the top social networks in a given year, it's ever-changing. Friendster and MySpace faded away after less than 10 years of existence. Groupon is disappearing. Foursquare and newcomer Pinterest possibly will lose relevance next. Although we don't know for sure, it is likely that not even Twitter or Facebook will make it more than a dozen years, not because they are in any way flawed, but simply because that is the nature of the Internet.

Compare that to newspapers, though. Maybe not as much, but newspapers are changing too. Just like websites, we see newspapers lose their place and disappear. The Oakland Tribune and Baltimore Examiner are just two metropolitan dailies that were not able to stand the test of time and are no longer in circulation. But unlike social media websites, there are certain newspapers that have lasted and will last.

To say that Instagram is worth more than the New York Times, or even the Wall Street Journal, New York Post or any other major newspaper is simply false. It may cost more, but it is nowhere near as valuable.

The New York Times, and other newspapers too, connect generations. When my dad sat and read with me, it was a life of reading the New York Times being passed from father to son. It brought us together in a way that not even a Facebook friend request could do and helped share a moment that not even a sepia photo on Instagram could share. When my dad read with me that day, it was timeless.