End of newspapers

The first newspaper I ever worked on will soon fold — almost.

The Times-Picayune recently announced it will print a real newspaper only three days a week, not seven. New Orleans will be the first major American city to not have a daily paper.

I say almost go out of business because I am convinced they are just easing into the not-too-distant eventuality of ending the print version entirely.

The three-days-a-week ruse is akin to what corporations invariably say when major change looms, usually a buyout: Things will stay as before. You betcha.

And the print version on those three days will be entirely about delivering ads.

The newspaper will, in short order, go online 100 percent. And an online newspaper is not a newspaper at all. It’s a news website. Oddly, the T-P, as it is commonly called, has one of the most godawful websites you’ve ever laid eyes on.

(By the way, if you want to see excellent news websites, go to The Los Angeles Times or The Guardian in the United Kingdom.)

I say the T-P was my first newspaper, but that’s not quite so. It was The States-Item where I started in 1969 at age 24 for $115 a week, but the papers shared the same building, the same presses and the same newsroom. We worked mornings. They worked evenings.

And later, I switched to the T-P. Even later, the papers merged.

I was a reporter at first, like Clark Kent, but it took less than six months for me to realize I was not cut out to deal with amok humanity, a personality trait that hasn’t changed.

In 1970, I requested an indoor job as a copy editor, and I got it.

American life was evolving rapidly. Dad didn’t want to read a newspaper after work. He watched Walter Cronkite instead, so afternoon dailies lost their readership and folded.

In 1980, the T-P took over the S-I, but I had switched to the morning paper years earlier.

* * * *

I caught the very end of the fun era of newspapers. The people were eccentric. Almost all were boozers. Women only worked on “society pages.” Reporters used antique typewriters, and we editors used pencils and glue pots to stick the pages together, head to tail.

Those pages went downstairs to be set into type on a huge iron machine with a keyboard.

Ever so gradually, it changed. Modernity arrived. Women became real reporters. Boozing was frowned upon. Computers, first primitive, later first-rate, changed the newspaper world.

And the people changed too. Watergate made a massive difference. What had been a vagabond’s occupation became trendy, and university journalism departments were jammed.

Everybody wanted to be Woodward or Bernstein.

When I grabbed early retirement in 1999, you would have been hard pressed to distinguish a modern newsroom from any insurance underwriters’ office. And those people who once were vagabonds had become boring careerists fixated on their futures and 401-Ks.

I don’t miss it.

31 thoughts on “End of newspapers”

  1. I’m addicted to newspapers, just finished two and if I see one today that is different, I’ll buy it. The web is great but it lacks depth and it seldom covers the local news well. Ya get what ya pay for.

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    1. Norm: We are of one mind. However, newspapers’ days are numbered. They will go, in short order, down the road of music tapes, vinyl records, etc. Also on that road are books, magazines, music CDs, a whole bunch of stuff we used to hold in our hands.

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      1. They said the same about steelmills when I was young, their days were numbered and all but they are still melting ore in our valley today, with union labor to boot. They do not lay waste to the rivers anymore and the air is blue instead of rust red like it was. The US needs papers, the same as it needs iron houses and the papers will evolve just as the iron house did. We rolled the steel around by hand when I started in the mill, we did not even touch it much by the end of my time at the grindstone. There were 760 men on the rolls when I started, there are less than 200 now and they put out twice the tonnage. The pressrooms are doing the same and with computers, the copy people are doing the work of ten. They are sharing content more than ever, the reporters are featured in several papers as a matter of course. The fate of the poorly managed papers will go the way of any poorly managed concern — history.

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  2. I have to wonder about people who do not have computers and, more or less, rely on the printed daily to job hunt, house hunt and browse the classifieds. Our Boston daughter is a reporter for the Boston Globe which almost went out with a union dispute a couple of years ago but concessions were made and she still has a job. The paper is owned by the NYT and the next time they need to widen the margin of the bottom line of the income statements the unionists whose perks were conceded to last time won’t get any more concessions.

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    1. Carole: I am losing touch with everyday American life. Don’t most people in that country have computers these days? Down here, they do not, but we make up for it by having internet cafés on every street corner. And, of course, we also remain neck-deep in daily newspapers.

      As for unions, let us have a moment of prayer for Wisconsin’s Gov. Walker who faces a recall vote next Tuesday.

      I never had to join a union during my newspaper years. The only place I worked that even had a union was the San Juan Star. The union there was led by members of the Puerto Rican Communist Party, literally, which tells you lots about unions these days. Other days too.

      For some reason, they never asked me to join. Perhaps they sensed my antipathy.

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      1. They have computers in every school I would say, so that age group is covered. Libraries, as opposed to internet cafes, would allow the public access. But there are still many people, usually in the lower income strata, that won’t go out of their way to access one or even learn how one operates. I remember when my children were in elementary school and I was active in their parent-teacher org we tried to speak to the principal about putting some computers into their library which the org would purchase, and he was adamantly opposed. He was an old guy then. My kids are 30-somethings now and that man just wouldn’t allow the thought to penetrate his brain that that’s the way the world was going then and, in fact, now. But there is a donut-hole, to borrow a word from Medicare coverage, of adult people who are now and will probably remain computer illiterate unless there are kids in their lives who will fill the gap.

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        1. Carole: Those folks in the lower-income groups whom you mention don’t read newspapers either, so they don’t really figure into this process one way or the other. This fading away of newspapers will take some time, but it’s as inevitable as the sun rising in the east.

          Donut hole? I like that.

          Regarding your PS to your comment, which I erased, about the typo. I fixed it for you. I always fix typos in the comments when I notice them. I usually notice them, and I want the commenters to look good.

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  3. Don’t write newspapers off yet. They’re merely evolving to accommodate technology. My countywide free weekly is doing better now than ever. We have broken all advertising each month this year so far.

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    1. John: Newspapers will not collapse overnight, of course, but they will in time. As Joe mentions in a comment farther down the line here, smaller newspapers, like yours, do better due to the sense of community they provide. Let’s hope yours thrives at least till you’re ready to hang it up, sell it at a fat price, and head over the Southern border to join me.

      As I mentioned to Carole above, I fixed the typo in your comment and zapped your second comment addressing it. I wish this comment system allowed people to edit their comments but, alas, it does not. But I can. And do, often. I never change the sense of anything, however, just typos and bad punctuation and sentence construction. After doing it for so many years as an occupation, I cannot break the habit, nor do I want to.

      I likely have the neatest comments anywhere. Some folks do offer quite a challenge, however. I am ever mystified by some people’s affection for ……….. to separate sentences or even to end the comment………periods just gush out of them……….like waterfalls……..

      And whenever someone spots a typo or any grammatical error in my posts here, I always appreciate a heads-up.

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  4. My old hometown newspaper arrives every morning here in Melaque on my Kindle. And I do as I always have: read it while eating my cereal.

    You are correct, though, it is not the same. The content seems a bit schizoid. Sometimes written for Harvard professors. Other times for grade school dropouts. But always with an eye to the sensational. And with a good deal of secular correctness.

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    1. Steve: When I first bought my Kindle, I subscribed to a newspaper. It was very difficult to navigate on the Kindle and looked like crap. I canceled. Some things do not travel well, alas. I do subscribe to a couple of magazines, which do better on the Kindle. Books do fine.

      In time, of course, they’ll get the newspaper transition perfected.

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  5. Glue pots, kneaded erasers (to get the extra glue off), paste-up boards — remember it well. How times have changed. Now it’s computers and programs. As they said, back to the drawing board — but now it’s a screen.

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  6. Warren Buffet recently announced that he’s buying 63 more newspapers; will likely buy more newspapers in the next few years. He says that small to mid-sized newspapers will do well where there is a strong sense of community. His purchases include the newspapers’ websites, and he believes that all newspapers should quit offering a free online edition.

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    1. Joe: Yes, smaller papers have that sense-of-community thing, so they will hang on longer, I imagine, perhaps considerably longer. Looks like Buffet agrees. As newspapers fold, they will have to charge for the online edition. Many of the biggies already do that to a great extent. The Wall Street Journal and New York Times, for example. Aggravates me, but I understand it completely.

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  7. Ahh the smell and noise of the Linotype machines, the heat of the lead. Gotta go with progress, screaming and yelling. I picked up my hometown paper a while ago. It had shrunk to about 16 inches wide from 20 inches and was about 10 pages total. It use to be 30 to 40 pages at one time.

    Another thing that killed the papers is their ad costs. I can remember paying 400 dollars for a 6 or 7 line help wanted ad in the ’80s. Now Craigslist does a better job for 75 bucks. I think they created their rapid demise.

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  8. Well, I do believe that I spotted a typo in your next to the last paragraph of this blog post. You meant to type become, not became.

    Just thought that I would give you a heads up since you say you appreciate us bringing those sorts of things to your attention.

    I am sure you could have a field day with my sentence structure, grammar, spelling and so on.

    I do have one pet peeve and that is when people use the word then, when they should use the word than.

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    1. Connie! How right you are. I have fixed my goof. And I appreciate letting me know. Don’t hesitate, please, to do it in the future. You would not believe how many times I read over my posts looking for mistakes, but being one’s own proofreader means you have the worst proofreader available.

      Nah, your comments are quite pretty and well-structured, always.

      As for then vs. than, I would bet you big money that error is simply a typo 99 percent of the time, and an easy one to make at that. I bet most people know the difference.

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    1. For pointing out an error for me to make right. I want to encourage that. After one gathers ten gold stars, something special happens. I’m not sure just yet what that is.

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  9. I have the good fortune to work with a former newspaper reporter who enthralls me with stories of the old days when he pounded the pavement, to get “the story.”

    The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on…

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    1. Ray: Here’s what compelled me to end my reporting career within the first six months.

      The newsroom had a police radio so we heard calls at the same time the cops on the street heard them. One day there was a call about a young boy who had drowned in Lake Pontchartrain. The cops mentioned his home address.

      The city editor told me to go to the boy’s home and get a photo to use with the story of his drowning. I immediately hopped in my car and drove to his home. I rang the bell, and a woman answered. She did not look distraught in the slightest, and I realized that no one had told her that her son was dead. I had arrived before the police.

      A “real” reporter would have told her and watched her have an emotional meltdown so he could write an interesting, colorful story.

      I, on the other hand, just wanted to get the hell out of there. I had asked her if it was where the boy lived (I had his name). She said yes, that he was at school. I muttered something about a mistake being made, and started backing down the steps toward the sidewalk.

      At that point, she had become concerned. She followed me, asking what it was all about. I just got in my car and returned to the newsroom. I think it was the next day that I asked for an editing job.

      I can’t be a cop either, I imagine.

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  10. The fundamental problem of the newspaper industry is the fact that you no longer need 400 reporters covering the President. In the old days, many papers would have their own Washington reporters, business reporters, etc. Now with the internet the need for such duplication is greatly diminished. If everyone can read the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times (amongst others) coverage of Washington, why would you also need to read the Kansas City Star’s reporting? Or someone else’s?

    That’s why locally oriented papers are doing well. There aren’t a ton of top-flight organizations trying to all get the same story. What the local papers really need to figure out how to do is to do this online and then effectively monetize it.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we live a stone’s throw from the Boston Globe.

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  11. The Morning Advocate in Baton Rouge is slowly becoming a better paper. Baton Rouge eclipsed New Orleans in size in one day, with the arrival of Katrina. However, there are a few power brokers in my once large city who are pushing for a daily. Tom Benson, who owns the NFL and NBA franchises for the city is trying to pressure the T-P to remain daily. Also Mayor Landrieu (junior) needs to satisfy the state law requiring certain laws and posts to be carried in daily papers in urban areas. I started out in journalism in 1982, and changed my major after one semester. I saw that the future was in television, and I am not suited for that medium.I was even an intern at the lowly Houma Courier, which I enjoyed thoroughly. Now, print will be virtual in most localities before my generation dies.

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    1. Laurie: I did not know about your past media connections. Interesting. And not a surprise. Well, we will see what happens in the T-P case but, in the long run, I stick by my contention that newspapers are doomed.

      By the way, I never took a journalism class in my life, not even one. You could get into the newspaper trade, and that’s about what it was, a trade, without formal schooling until Watergate inadvertently jammed university Journalism Departments everywhere. After that, you pretty much had to have a degree in it. Post-grad degrees were even better. The supply-demand equation flipped from one end to the other almost overnight.

      All because of Tricky Dick.

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  12. I had one class in Journalism that was a complete waste of time and money. However, the sports writers at the Courier and stringers from the T-P were good for stories and a lunch date at times. I still like Chris Rose, but he, too, has left the T-P. He was let go even after writing compelling, award-winning, human-interest copy after Katrina. I think he speaks a bit on the tube. I have his book, 1 dead in the attic. Good book when you want to feel depressed.

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