Saturday, November 21, 2015

Sic Transit Newspapers

So it happened!
But what does it mean?
                  I was 22 years old and a senior at Kent State University when the girl I was dating said she was pregnant.
          So we got married.
          Easily one of the best and worst events of my life.
          But that's another story.
          I was living with a half-dozen wanna-be actors, artists and poets in an aging, off-campus house owned by a hard-drinking widow and her unemployed lover named Eliott who pocketed our rent and drank our beer when nobody was home.
          Not sure if I wanted to be a novelist, actor, painter or psychologist, I supported myself loading an industrial-sized dish washer in a girls' dorm cafeteria - eating what the coeds didn't before scraping the rest into the roaring maw of a giant garbage disposal.
          It being February and my new wife two months along, I had to get a real job to buy groceries and pay the rent for our basement efficiency off-campus.
          Deus ex machina:
          One afternoon while drinking with the fellowship at Eddie's Stag Bar, a guy I knew from the student newspaper told me another guy was leaving the local newspaper for a better job.
           Which is how I became the only full-time reporter working for 25 cents above minimum wage at the Record-Courier -- aka as The Progressive Voice of Portage County.
            Oh yes.
            My Dad loaned me $125 to buy a badly rusted 1949 two-door Champion Studebaker with a radio that usually worked if you banged on the dashboard.
             As for t
he Norman Rockwell painting of a country newspaper?
             It feels right. 
             Although nobody wore sleeve garters while our steel desks were government surplus from the Second World War.
              The phone on my desk was a gooseneck model. With an attached headset for typing death notices phoned in by local funeral home.
              Almost forgot.
              Back some 50-plus years ago, I was told decent reporters had to include a "nut graph" -- or quotes from appropriate sources -- to  explain the pros and cons of the $2.5 million project at the city sewer plant. Including why the sewer plant mattered to folks in the city and so on.
              Of course that was several lifetimes ago when a local newspaper assigned reporters to "cover" doings at City Hall, or the County Government Building.
             Thus, in judging the news "value" of a story, (or elements likely to generate reader interest), we were taught to consider the following questions
             1. Is this Good News or Bad?
             2. Good news or bad for whom?
             3. How will the "News" impact the reader?
             4. How credible are the various sources?
             5. Is the story balanced?
             6. Is there a photograph or graphic that will 
                 "show" as well as "tell" the reader the                        facts.
             7. Are the facts interesting? (Shipping news                  versus a sinking ship) 
             8. What might be the next development?  
             Too often, aside from reprinting FAXed police reports, today's local newspapers contain a kind of "Ersatz News" that makes mockery of the print media's vaunted First Amendment rights by (A) failing to address the above basic reader-focused questions and/or (B) regurgitating what folks saw on their local TV news the night before.
               And so we find...
     In millions       1960    2014    + -
     US Population  180.7   318.9    76.5%
       Daily                58.9     40.4    (31.4%)  
       Sunday            47.7      42.7   (11.2%) 
               Although the number of newly published books (both fiction and non) continues to rise.

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