Blown To Bits

A Digital Tragedy

Thursday, November 20th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

We keep saying that the digital explosion has good and bad sides. For every meatspace tradition that dies because physicality isn’t what it used to be, a dozen digital innovations are born. But this morning, I’m going to grieve an irreplaceable loss.

The Out-Of-Town News Stand in Harvard Square is closing.

I remember how astonishing it was in 1964 when I arrived at Harvard from Wellesley, Massachusetts — hardly the ends of the earth — and found I could buy French newspapers and magazines (it was the only modern language I could read) and newspapers from a hundred cities across the U.S. It was like Widener Library except that when you came back a few days later, it was all different.

When the huge renovation of the public transportation system took place in the 1980s, the old T station, through which you used to emerge into Harvard Square, became the new home of the newsstand.

The digital explosion has killed the business. Newspapers are shrinking in general as news moves online. But the market for foreign newspapers — days or weeks old by the time they have arrive — has all but disappeared.

I might have hoped the place could stay open selling mostly pornography, but that’s moved online too.

I should have seen it coming a few weeks ago when I bought a Christian Science Monitor there. It’s not a paper I usually purchased, but that day’s edition carried a column of mine. It was a newspaper without news, such a small tabloid that it was folded twice and still seemed thin. I felt sorry for it, as I would feel sorry for a victim of famine. And now the Christian Science Monitor is no more as a paper publication (it will continue on the Web).

No Out Of Town News? I should be happy for all the opportunities there will be in its place, but this one is hard to take.

Comments are closed.