Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hard-Pressed ...

As I don't do most mornings, I'm trading comments on Facebook with my pal Rick about the demise of newspapers.

And my coffee hasn't even kicked in.

I can say that I come from a newspaper family not because my last name is Graham – because it's not – but because my grandfather (on my mom's side; I never knew my grandfather on my dad's) worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a pressman. My mom has a nifty tie bar that her dad was given when he retired that's in the shape of the odd building that used to rest along the Chicago River, which was torn down to make way for yet another monument to Donald Trump's ego.

Many years later, I would work in that building, too, as Jeff Zaslow's assistant for a couple of summers in college. He and Diane Crowley took over the space vacated by Ann Landers. The walls were painted over but the pink carpet remained.

Like Ann, in one way alone, I too made my way from west to east, from the Sun-Times to the Chicago Tribune. What I thought would be a six-month stint turned into a nearly five-year stay.

While I was there, I witnessed the beginnings of the paper's online presence begin to take shape.

The Trib and I parted ways in 1997. And while 12 years is not an insignificant passage of time, it's been a bit staggering to watch the implosion from then to now. Sam Zell's purchase, of course, just hastened it all.

Yesterday, as I read about the Chicago News Cooperative, I heard the Tribune's death knell chiming in the distance.

Some true Tribune heavy-hitters will be competing against their former paper. It's another nail in the coffin of the paper that likes to think of itself as the world's greatest. If folks in Chicago can get the New York Times with a side order of local news, there's really no reason for them to get the Tribune anymore. It's not the paper it used to be, and many prefer the Times but feel the need to get a local paper as well. The CNC is eliminating that need.

I still know a few people in the Tower. And I surely don't want them to lose their jobs, though if they did, I suspect they'd find new gigs without much travail. They've lasted this long in the climate of industry-wide cuts because they're very good at what they do. Others could segue into teaching. Others could write books.

Or perhaps they could go to work for the CNC.

My newspaper days are over, save for the occasional freelance story. It's not that I wouldn't go back to a paper. It's just that most newspapers aren't hiring. Two Chicago dailies in bankruptcy at the same time does not spell good times for the future of newspapers.

Though I know several kids in journalism school. And I'm confident that they'll find jobs when they graduate. There will always be a need for folks to gather and disseminate news. They've grown up in the Internet age. They don't have to make the mental transition from ink-on-paper to the virtual world.

But it all begs the question: What will I wrap my dishes in the next time I move?


Blogger J. Marquis said...

I love newspapers. Hope at least a few will always be around.

I did hear a good line the other day...pretty soon the only people who buy newspapers will be kidnappers who need to prove in a photo what day they took somebody.

7:00 PM  

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