MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH NEWSPAPERS IS GOING WRONG
I recently read about the retirement buy out taken by several reporters from the Providence Journal. These retirements leave voids in a cross section of Journal departments; sports, politics and the arts. Every year we see signs of the death knell of newspapers as print vehicles for information. This saddens me almost beyond consolation.
My first experience with newspapers was in 1954 as an eight year old helping my older brother deliver the Sunday Providence Journal in our Pawtucket neighborhood. We used a home made wooden cart to make our rounds, much like the carts seen in old photos of produce peddlers in New York City in the 1920’s. I believe my pay was 25 cents and it seemed like a fortune.
When we returned home from our delivery chores I would devour the Journal’s sports section checking the box scores to see what Ted Williams had done. I’d then move on to the comics getting chuckles from Beatle Bailey and being confused by Pogo and Li’l Abner.
As I entered my late teens my focus shifted and I searched newspapers for columnists like Art Buchwald, Mike Royko, Erma Bombeck, Studs Terkel and Jimmy Breslin. From these icons of commentary I discovered a world outside my small environment. I came to know the politics of Chicago, the swagger of New York City and the witty mannerisms to be found in suburbia. These early forays led to a life long love of the Op Ed pages and the art of commentary as practiced by Calvin Trillen, Roger Angell, William F. Buckley, Maureen Dowd and their many newspaper/magazine stablemates.
Finally out of college, after three years of Army duty, I sent a short freelance article to the Boston Globe in June of 1977. One week later there was my story on the front page with a photo and, most wondrously, a by-line. Emboldened by this success I quickly sent another effort to the Providence Journal. Two weeks later it was featured in the Speaking Out section which occupied the inside cover of the Rhode Islander magazine insert which was part of the Sunday Providence Journal. It had taken me twenty three years, but, I had gone from schlepping the Sunday Journal up the stairs of triple deckers in Darlington to being published in their magazine!
Life; raising a family, creating a career, paying the mortgage and, frankly, a lack of writing initiative shelved my literary efforts until my retirement a few years ago. Since then I have been honored to grace the Op Ed pages of this paper more than thirty times. Now, I fear this time is coming to an obvious close.
This commentary is not meant to rehash the print versus digital debate. That conflict is almost over. In 2014 I attended a forum where legendary Boston Globe sports writer Bob Ryan was a participant and he declared, “ If you are still having a newspaper delivered to your doorstep and you still hold a newspaper in your hands, cherish this for it will not survive the decade.”
My greatest fear, however, is not the digitizing of the news. My true fears are two fold; the disappearance of local ownership and the click monetizing pressure reporters will be subjected to in their writing efforts. Outside corporate ownership always leads to less on the street local reporting while the move to online will emphasize the need for journalist to write in a style which attracts the most clicks, or hits, which can be turned into advertising revenue. When search engine optimization enters into the realm of journalism the readers will severely suffer.
Thomas Jefferson once famously said, “…were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government , I should not hesitate to prefer the later.”
However, Jefferson wrote that in 1787.
By 1809 he declared, “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.”
I fear the metamorphosis away from locally owned, daily print newspapers to a 24/7 on line social media reporting will have me sadly making the same shift in opinion about my once beloved newspapers.