About Utah: 5-year-old reader gives newspaper industry hope

Published: Monday, Dec. 20 2010 12:54 a.m. MST

PAYSON— Yeah. Yeah. The newspaper industry has seen better days, we keep hearing that.

Subscriptions are down across the country, from Maine to Malibu. It's just too convenient to read the paper when it's not on paper, particularly when it's free. People are getting their news online on their iPads, their iTouches, their BlackBerries, their G4 phones, their laptops, their e-readers, their office computers. Nobody's got a death-grip on the printed page anymore.

So you can imagine the euphoria around the office when the following e-mail came to managing editor Rick Hall's in-box:

Dear Sir: I'm writing to you about my 5-year-old son, Weston. Although he is still learning to read, every morning he has a routine that includes the Deseret News, cinnamon toast and orange juice. He loves to look at the weather section and the colorful map of the United States and the days of the week to see if there will be snow or not. He spends 20-30 minutes every morning analyzing it. I just wanted you to know you have a devoted, daily, 5-year-old reader in Weston.

Thanks,

Mark Kershaw

Wait. What was Weston's age again?

Five.

So you're telling us there's a chance.

Rick Hall said maybe we should do what we could to lock this kid up before he even knows there is such a thing as an iPad.

If we hook him early, he could be the start of a new wave of people who prefer paper.

He dispatched me to Weston's home in Payson to thank him for being a longtime loyal reader even if he can't read yet.

I called Weston's mom, Michelle, who coordinates Weston's schedule.

She said I was in luck, Weston was free just about anytime, other than 12:30 to 3 when he's in Miss Miller's kindergarten class at Spring Lake Elementary.

I arrived at 10. Weston answered the door. He looked relaxed in a sweatshirt, jeans and some snazzy sneakers.

Just looking at him, you wouldn't guess that he's the start of a new generation of newspaper readers.

I asked him to explain how it all started. He said one morning he was dining on his usual — the aforementioned cinnamon toast and orange juice — when the newspaper was lying open on the kitchen table and the weather page caught his eye.

He checked out the yellow sun and the gray clouds, the raindrops and the snowflakes.

Suddenly a new world opened up. From this one page of newsprint he could assess what kind of day it was going to be: hot, cold, rainy, sunny.

How long ago did this seminal moment occur, I asked.

About four months ago, said Weston and Michelle.

Except for one day, Weston hasn't missed a morning with his paper ever since.

The exception was when the carrier mistakenly left another paper, the Provo Daily Herald, on the Kershaw's driveway.

Weston searched and searched and couldn't find the familiar weather page.

"He just about flipped out," said Michelle.

The next day the Deseret News was back on the driveway and the world was right again.

"I don't know, I just like it," said Weston.

So far he said he hasn't branched out into other sections of the paper ... not even the comics.

But it won't be long. He already knows his ABCs, which I know to be a fact because he proudly recited them during our get-together.

"Wait'll you discover the sports page," I told him.

For all of us, the future is suddenly looking brighter.

Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com.

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