Let me just say right from the start that I love newspapers...I love the way they look, the way they feel, the ritual of reading one from front to back. I enjoy the whole experience. When you have a newspaper, you have something real, something tangible.
However, it would seem that many people don't feel the same way I do. As a nation, we are steadily falling out of love with newspapers. Where once people were loyal to one or two titles, which they paid for the local paperboy (or girl) to deliver through their letterbox every day, most people now seem content to simply browse the front page headlines when they're doing a big shop at the supermarket. That's if they ever look at a paper copy at all. Quite simply, the relationship status between reader and newspaper has at the very least changed from married to complicated.
I could try and blame things like the phone hacking scandal and the Leveson Inquiry but things had been on the rocks long before that. We've changed...As a society, we want our news right now, for free and in our pockets to look at whenever we get the urge. (Have you tried fitting a newspaper in your pocket? Believe me, it isn't pretty. And that's just the tabloid format. If you go back to the old-style broadsheets, it took a bit of skill to read one with two hands, never mind stuff it in the back pocket of a pair of jeans). And of course like all things from the village pub to the local library, if you don't support it, one day it will be gone and you'll realise what you've lost.
People used to talk of 'taking' their favourite newspaper, like a prescription pill or a regular tipple. It came into their homes on a daily basis like part of the family. Sharing news would be reading out bits of an article over dinner and when you picked up your local daily newspaper on your way home from work, it was quite literally hot off the press with smudgy newsprint which made your fingerprints black.
I decided I was going to be a newspaper journalist when I was just 11. And once I had decided, I never considered anything else. I started doing work experience at 15, had a spell as chief reporter on the university newspaper (which we sold for real money from the student's union) and headed to Sheffield College to learn my trade with a postgraduate diploma in print journalism.
Back then, if you wanted to be a journalist there were really three choices - print, TV or radio. Of course, the internet was there at that point but it was lurking in the corner of the party like an awkward adolescent. I did a spell of work experience on Guardian Unlimited back in 2000, but although the website was ahead of its time, it had a separate team to the paper product and was more of a geeky younger sibling than a partner.
For me, there was never any question. I knew I wanted to work in print from the word go - to see my words in black and white and watch the presses print a front page I had written (this was before the health and safety bods stopped journalists going near the presses and long before printing was something to be outsourced to someone and somewhere else).
I finished my college course on the Friday and started my first job on the Monday at The Evening Press in York. It was a baptism of fire but I loved every minute. Reporters brought in their own stories (no cutting and pasting press releases for us) and more time was spent out of the office on jobs than ever was behind a desk. At that point, we all had email addresses but most news came to us on foot via the colourful characters who popped into reception to see us or the fax machine which thrummed constantly in the corner, churning out pages and pages of paper messages.
Of course times change and what started as a creep became a march. Fewer people were buying newspapers so fewer people were there to write them. And those that were there were expected to do more, to be more. There was no longer time to investigate things. Every ounce of energy was ploughed into simply keeping up.
When I left my third daily newspaper The Sentinel, in Stoke-on-Trent after more than a decade in print journalism, I never imagined I wouldn't return to the newsroom environment I loved. I moved to Sheffield and at first it just seemed simpler to work as a freelancer. I could fit my work around my children without spending all my wages on nursery fees and I could pick and choose what I did and when I did it. But what started as a short-term thing soon seemed like the only realistic option. I started to realise that almost everything I was writing was going to an online audience and that actually there was more work for a copywriter out there than a journalist.
So here I am. A print journalist who still loves newspapers but will probably never work for one again. It isn't that I wouldn't want to, just that it wouldn't ever be the same. Can we put the online genie back in the bottle? Of course not and we wouldn't want to. But can we find a way to move with the times and save our newspapers for future generations? I really hope so.
This was originally published on Catherine Ball's blog