Tag Archives: Newspapers

My Love Affair With Newspapers


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.


The Final Page


December 31st, 2030

Well, we all saw this coming. Now, here I am. The final page of the last actual non-digital newspaper being spit out of the now instantly obsolete laser printers here at the last print newspaper left, The Des Moines Register. It is the last day of 2030 and the end of an era. Tomorrow we also go online.

Happy New Year!

Johannes Gutenberg began this journey when he invented the moveable press in 1440. What he started then with the printing of indulgences for the church and his most famous work, the Gutenberg 42 Line Bible, was the conception of a print life which lasted 590 years.

For almost 6 decades the globe’s citizenry has held parchment in their hands to keep abreast of the world, to learn new ideas, to marvel at invention and to despair at mankind’s foibles.

What a glorious run it was! Nationally paid daily newspaper subscriptions in the United States peaked at 63,000,000 in 1987. By 2015 the number had shrunk down to 39,000,000 followed by 15 more years of rapid erosion as newspapers across the land went digital and the lines between newspapers and other video content became blurred.

Today as I am bundled together with the other meagre 26 pages of this final issue of The Des Moines Register and being transported to the mere 40,000 remaining subscribers, who will surely save us as historical artifacts, I reflect upon our heritage and our impact.

For generations newspapers presented the full kaleidoscope of emotions. Within one daily newspaper you would find the joy of birth announcements separated by only several pages from the report of a brutal murder. In the boldest, largest font possible our headlines have celebrated the end of wars and declared the shock of Presidential assassinations.

Avid newspaper readers may have railed at the dark smudges which tinted their fingertips in the 1960’s and 70’s, but I’d wager they now fondly recall them as badges of honor. The ink stained fingers of the well informed.
Oh sure, sometimes we got it wrong, even the headlines, “Dewey Beats Truman” in 1948 . A vast majority of the time though, we got it right and we became the most trusted source for information. The time and effort required to not only gather the story, but also assembling and printing the story gave newspapers space for consideration and correction. Todays frenzy of instantaneous, competing headlines leads to a feeling of confusion and mistrust by their consumers.

But, I don’t want to spend my final day kvetching. Time moves on. Rather, as I head for my own personal – 30 -, I’d prefer to reflect on the joy newspapers have spread across the country down through the decades.

For instance, on how many walls in how many homes, in and around Boston, do you think there hangs a framed copy of the Boston Globe headline for October 28th, 2004, “Yes!!”, celebrating the Red Sox first World Series victory in 86 years? It is usually right next to the John F. Kennedy portrait.

The number of newspaper sales at newsstands across America nearly tripled the normal amount on July 22nd, 1969 the morning the headlines touted Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon.

The importance of newspapers is centuries old. In 1787 Thomas Jefferson declared, “ Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the later.”

Now, even me, little ol’ page 26 of The Des Moines Register of December 31st, 2030, realizes there is more news, by far, being dispensed than ever before by the miracle of binary coding. However, it just feels so much more crass and divisive than what me and my paper compatriots presented. Call me a curmudgeon if you must.

Perhaps I’m just reacting to the final irony of today. For you see, I, page 26, am an obituary page.

– 30 –

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