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Reading The Guardian For A Week

I’ve had a full week – my post about the Harrod’s Comic Book Exhibit helped to tweak the accompanying copy, if Rich’s comment is true; a question about the use of double hyphens in comic book lettering to Todd Klein became the source of a post on his excellent blog about lettering (by the way, he’s a very nice chap based on his email correspondence); and I’ve spent the week reading a a proper national newspaper on my commute to and from work. Okay, I admit that doesn’t sound a lot, but I thought it was eventful.

Living in London and using public transport, you don’t need to buy a paper. The free daily newspapers are The Metro (in the morning), The London Lite and The London Paper (in the afternoon); and there are the free weekly magazines Short List (men’s lifestyle) and Sport (about, erm, sport) on Thursday and Friday, respectively. These litter the trains of the underground because, with the possible exception of Short List, they are rubbish, as you can see in posts where I complain about the Metro [POST 1] [POST 2] [POST 3].

I decided to try an experiment. Buying and reading a paid-for newspaper rather than wasting my time on the freebies. The only choice for me was The Guardian – I always buy it on a Saturday, as my weekend paper, but also because it has the best supplement: The Guide, which is home to the entertaining Charlie Brooker. There was also the fact that this week they were doing a collection of give away booklets under the title How To Write, with each one a different type of writing (fiction, comedy, journalism, etc.). So, every morning, I picked up the paper and read some proper journalists and proper news.

I’ve never read a newspaper on a daily basis: I’m not a journalist, I’m not a news-orientated type, and because it costs money. This was the first shock: The Guardian is 80 pence – when did broadsheets get so expensive? That’s a lot of money: £7.50 every week, including the Saturday Guardian (£1.60) and Sunday Observer (£1.90). I know I could buy a book for that money, but that’s not the point of the experiment. Anyway, they do give you a lot for your money. As well as the main paper (50 pages), there is a diverse selection of extra bits. The daily paper has a separate Sports section, the G2 supplement, and a day-specific supplement (Media on Monday, Education on Tuesday, Society on Wednesday, Technology on Thursday, and Film/Music on Friday) – that’s more than enough to keep you busy.

In fact, how do people read that amount of paper? My commute is about 75 minutes, but with the walking and changing to different lines, it comes to about 45 minutes of reading. Even with both journeys, I could barely manage to read the main section and the G2 (I can’t be bothered with the sports section – I played a lot of sport as a younger man but I never got into reading about it). I’m quite a fast reader but it was tough going – I ended up skipping bits that I found too boring. How do journalists read all of it and absorb it? My brain felt overloaded with information; I felt up to date, but it was tough keeping it. And I didn’t even get round to reading the booklets that were the reason for the experiment in the first place …

It was also tough to physically read the paper; even though The Guardian switched to the slightly smaller Berliner format, a PhD in origami is required. It’s particularly tricky when one is trying to read it in a packed commuter train carriage, while standing up and trying to hold on to something. The other problem is inky fingers – I would have thought that technology could have sorted this out by now – which means the first stop on arriving at work is the toilets to wash your hands.

I’ve come to the end of the week and I have to admit that it has been enjoyable. It’s been nice to read well-written articles, rather than rewritten press releases (The Metro) or rewritten bits of news of the day (London Lite and London Paper); it may be a cliché but The Guardian is the reader’s paper. Even though the news is a day old, it is a joy to let people who are good at their job explain things and inform me in a professional manner. The G2 supplement provides the media ingredient I require and there is the added bonus of a decent sudoku, kakuro and quick crossword. I just wish I could afford to do it on a regular basis.

Now, time to actually read the How To Write booklets – I wonder if there’s anything in there about writing a blog …

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