Visually impaired can now listen to the newspaper…

Most of you reading this column are newspaper regulars. You love the feel of the paper in your hands and are upset if the ink is smeared. You like the rustle sound as you turn the pages. You react to the size and content of headlines. You pore over photographs and analyze charts that accompany articles.

In other words, you are hooked.

But what if you were blind or losing your sight? What if you had to abandon your paper, because you could no longer read it?

Well, you and millions of others would not have to give up your news because the NFB-Newsline offers The Salt Lake Tribune as well as several hundred other daily newspapers over the phone.

Printing large-type newspapers – like large-type books – or Braille newspapers would be prohibitively expensive, so no dailies do this. Scores of them do upload their content every day, however, so people who are visually impaired or blind can hear the news.

“We try to get all the newspapers’ content up on our computers by the time the local newspapers would normally be delivered,” according to NFB-Newsline Director Scott White. That content deadline means that NFB-Newsline subscribers can call the number they have been given and hear the paper read to them by a computer at the same time their neighbors are retrieving their newspapers from the driveway.

White said in the next few months the service will offer newspapers from 42 states and the District of Columbia – as well as Canadian newspapers. The service has about 240 newspapers and about 53,000 regular users of the Newsline. The service also carries The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

A number of money sources support the free service, including surcharges on telephone bills in some states and corporate gifts, White said. A bill now in Congress would provide funding for the telecommunications charges.

More than 12 million Americans are either blind or visually impaired, making regular newspapers an impossible task.

If you have a friend or relative who can no longer read the paper, you can call The National Federation of the Blind in Utah at 801-292-3000 for information or go to www.nfb.org and click on “products and technology,” then “audio newspaper service.”

A love letter: Most of the stuff I hear in my job is negative in tone: “You left this out,” “What’s wrong with you people,” “Who do you think you are to print something like this.” But every once in a while I get a dose of thanks, like this letter:

“I never pick up a newspaper but what I’m in total awe for your efforts in all our behalf.

“The daily newspaper is one of this life’s great phenomena.

“Our thanks for your tremendous efforts from the newsroom to the paper boys and everyone in between.”

Oooooo. Thanks for the compliments.

Sticky irritants: Many of you have called or e-mailed over the last few weeks complaining about the sticky ads stuck on the front page of the newspaper. You say they cover up the newspaper’s name, top headlines and photographs you want to see. You explain that the ads tear the paper when you try to pull them off.

In short, you say you hate them.

I am not crazy about them myself, but they seem to be a fact of life. The alternative to these sticky notes would be to actually sell ads on the front page – something that some newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal, are trying. I really would hate that. Some newspapers sell classified ads that run along the bottom of the front page. I would hate that also. But I have become a pragmatist about some practices. Advertising revenue provides the money to run the newspaper and some advertisers want to be noticed by the reader first thing – thus the sticky notes.

I do have a tip. I have learned if I s-l-o-w-l-y pull off the note, it does not tear what is underneath.