The Newspaper is Dead; Long Live the Newspaper
The Newspaper is Dead; Long Live the Newspaper
It is time for the daily newspaper as we know it to die.
I say that not only as a former newspaper reporter, but also as someone who came into this world supported by a newspaperman's salary. Growing up, the Axis of Evil went something like this - Satan/Nixon/Walter Cronkite. Not that my father would admit to that now - who doesn't admire Walter Cronkite? - but if we were caught watching the TV news there was hell to pay. My father couldn't even stand to watch Mary Tyler Moore (especially the award-winning episode when she went to jail) because she worked for TV.
Oh, how naive he seems now. Why, it's almost as if TV and newspapers are clinging to one another as the ship sinks.
Back in the day, the newspaper my father worked for - and later won a Pulitzer for - was so revered (and hated) by the community that the phone started ringing at 5 if an after-school paperboy happened to space. It was like that Woody Allen joke about two old ladies in the Catskills complaining that the food was awful. And, yes, there wasn't nearly enough of it.
The Bethlehem Globe-Times was an afternoon paper. Perfect for a town where the steel shift ended at 3 and dinner was on the table by 4:30 sharp. Like other small town newspapers, its cache was not investigative pieces or splashy features, but the bread and butter of life - obits, local sports scores (and photos), the police blotter, advertisements and Ann Landers.
As editor, my father not only oversaw the paper's content and wrestled with angry advertisers who balked at said content, he also wrote all the editorials, coached the pool of young reporters and, at that magic hour, went upstairs where hot lead was typed in reverse on huge metal plates to make sure every headline was right. It wasn't called "the daily miracle" for nothing.
That was before computers, of course, when newspaper stories were pounded out in triplicate and edited with black grease pencils that you unraveled with a string. We had tons of them lying around the house and when I think of my father as a younger man, I think of him with his shirt sleeves rolled up, his lips in a frown and that grease pencil behind his ear. The cop reporter - a hard-edged woman with a soft heart - was something out of central casting. Nice long legs, she smoked brown More cigarettes and was famous for the time she came into the office to find an eager intern bustling around her desk. After polite introductions, her only line to him was, "Get the fuck out of my chair."
When the publisher wrapped his car around a tree - again - he called up my father and said, "Don't hold it." As if my father would have. It was the cops who'd protected the publisher's drinking problem, not him. That was the way Bethlehem worked.
As a little girl, my father would meet me in the newsroom on Sundays after church where I gathered up the mounds of paper that had rolled off the AP machines and played with the dumb waiter that was used to carry messages from advertising to editorial. At sixteen, after the Globe-Times had long been a morning paper, I started writing business stories and at eighteen worked the lobster shift from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. the summer of my freshman year in college writing obits and rewriting stories called in from the Northampton Town Council meeting. The editor next to me worked his way through a six pack each night.
In college, I edited the Tufts Observer, oversaw a raunchy April Fools issue and was nearly kicked out of school. Because of it, though, I got an internship at Newsday. The day after my own graduation, I was covering Rutgers' graduation for the Home News in New Jersey. Three years there, one painful relationship, and I was at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. When Charlie went to law school, I worked for a paper smaller than the Globe-Times, a dinky daily called the Valley News where I sat across from a certain future author - Sarah Stewart Taylor.
Of those newspapers for which I worked, the Globe-Times is gone and so is the Home News. The Boston Globe, for which I used to string in college, apparently loses $1 million a week. Here's a list of those papers not likely to survive.
I know a lot about newspapers. And I know their time has come to an end. The days of producing pulp to transmit information is so environmentally destructive it's criminal. So, for that matter, is delivering the daily papers by car and truck. People read their iPhones on the train. And in the barber's. The Rocky Mountain News has closed and many more will follow.
But that's not to say journalism is dead. In fact, I would argue it's more alive than ever. I read "more news" now than I ever have, repeatedly checking my local newspaper's online edition not only for breaking stories, but also for reaction from the community. The New York Times online is the first thing I read in the morning and the last thing I read at night. If anything, we need more and better trained reporters able to deliver news accurately and quickly.
The question, as always, is how to pay for them. I subscribe to the NYT online and would happily subscribe to my local newspaper for the same cost as a paper edition. Does advertising work in an electronic medium? Frankly, I don't see the difference between an ad on paper and an ad on the screen.
Yes, I'll miss that heady smell of ink on newsprint, the romance of those first pages coming off hot. Somehow, the words on them seem more permanent, more real, more powerful. But they're just words. And now they're being read on something else.
That's all. Just that.