Monday, May 4, 2009

The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate

I stole the line from the great Dan Jenkins, who used it as the title of collection of newspaper and magazine pieces a long time ago. I kept thinking about the title because as far as I can tell, the New York Times, a great newspaper, is trying to kill the Boston Globe, a fine newspaper.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune, an old newspaper, is trying to kill itself and at the same time kill the Baltimore Sun, which used to be a fine newspaper. The Times and the Tribune may fail at these ignoble endeavors, but this week it doesn't feel that way.

The Times has gone from bullying the paper it acquired some years ago for $1.1 billion to playing the unions against one another. The Tribune laid off 53 more reporters, editors and photographers on a single day last week, and has systematically reduced the Sun - the paper of H.L. Mencken and countless other worthies - to, well, a joke. It's now a paper you can read in five minutes, like the Miami Herald and too many other surviving metro dailies.

I know most of the cool kids think this doesn't matter much. The hard work, enterprise and commitment to the cities these papers serve will be replaced by ... something. Or so we are assured. The other day I heard a guy with a cable TV platform say that every city didn't need its own newspaper. That, among other things, is a monstrously arrogant point of view. But typical.

The unfolding rationales for the new world order sound innovative but they are as old as home delivery. For example: "New media" will focus on "local news," we're told.

I first heard the local news argument made when I was copy clerk on the old Washington Star in about 1975. In any town where you were the second paper, like the Star, you talked about local news because the bigger paper was killing you on national news, international news, the gamut. Somehow the blogosphere and the media critics make this concept sound as fresh as hand sanitizer.

The continuing debate is not for the squeamish. Folks who love newspapers and work for them are inclined to whine and hold their breath. Most of the online set seems to despise newspapers, in part I guess because they feel they've been disrespected by the newspaper culture. Maybe they have.

But there will be consequences to what is going on here. There is a great deal of sound thinking and good writing on the blogosphere these days. But there is a tidal wave of arrant nonsense as well, and the Boston Globe is not going to be replaced in the homes, schools and businesses of New England by ranting, scavaging, mostly anonymous Websites with ha-ha monikers.

If this ends badly, any number of things will happen. Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger, the publisher of the Times, will forever be known as the man who shuttered the Boston Globe. The toffs at Harvard and Tufts and all those other fine schools in Boston will adjust to life without a quality daily newspaper and I don't think they'll like it much.

The Chicago Tribune, where I used to work, is on track to destroy the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, the aforementioend Baltimore Sun and the Hartford Courant. And itself.

The men inherently responsible for this astonishing bidness fiasco - buying those papers as the market was collapsing - are less well known than Sulzberger. Mostly they are living out well-feathered retirements in the Midwest, their looting complete. Some of them comment thoughtfully from time to time on the fate of the newspaper business, often on the blogosphere.

The rest, it seems, is just an exercise in shooting the wounded. Those dogged victims of inexorable fate.

1 comment:

  1. You failed to mention that we wore the same outfits (I in white sequins head to toe and you in a spiffy tux) always being the cutest couple at the dinner. Miss those evenings because we always got to laugh at hundreds of people without having to go to more than one room.