I had two experiences Sunday that I believe reflect a couple of problems facing newspapers today:

1) The Dollar Tree store near my home sells the early edition of the Sunday Chicago Tribune on Saturdays — for only $1. For the past decade, I’ve lived in a county the Chicago newspapers define as “elsewhere” (in other words, not in the city or the suburbs), so the Sunday Tribune otherwise costs $3 around here. The dollar deal is great, though the newspapers often sell out fast and I end up buying the Sunday paper for regular price at a gas station or supermarket. And no, I never consider giving up my Sunday Tribune when I miss out on the dollar deal.

Anyway, I was at the Dollar Tree in another nearby community Sunday when a woman came in the store and asked a clerk if the Sunday Tribune was available there for a dollar. (It is, but the newspapers were all sold out.) After the woman left the store, a second clerk asked the first clerk what the woman wanted.

Clerk 1: “She wanted the Sun-Trib, or whatever it’s called.”

Clerk 2: “The Tribune? Do they have a Sunday paper?”

Clerk 1: “Yeah. It’s got all the coupons in it.”

I looked at my wife and rolled my eyes. Obviously neither clerk reads newspapers. One of them doesn’t even know what the newspaper is called, combining the names of the Tribune and its competitor, the Chicago Sun-Times. The other clerk didn’t even know there is a Sunday edition of the Chicago newspapers, apparently assuming they don’t publish that day just as the smaller, local daily newspapers don’t.

2) On our way home from the Dollar Tree, we stopped at a gas station so I could buy the newspaper. I usually buy just the Tribune, but an interesting cover story convinced me to buy the Sun-Times, too. So I grabbed the two newspapers and proceeded to the checkout counter. The clerk was shocked that two newspapers combined cost $5.75. I told her the price is ridiculous, especially as sections continue to get cut from the newspapers, but I enjoy reading the Sunday newspaper, so I continue to pay the price.

The gas station clerk obviously doesn’t buy newspapers, either. And her reaction to the rising cost of purchasing newspapers isn’t surprising or unwarranted. I rarely buy newspapers any other day of the week because I think 75 cents or $1 is too much money for something I can read for free on the Internet. I justify purchasing the Sunday newspaper because all the content cannot be found online, or at least it can’t be found easily.

As someone who worked as a newspaper reporter for 12 years before becoming a layoff statistic last fall, this is a subject of great concern to me. So here is my three-pronged question for you: Do you regularly buy one or more newspapers? How often? If you buy newspapers, why do you do so when most content can be read online for free?

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