One of my editors at the Sun-Times once asked me, “Roger, is it true that they used to let reporters smoke at their desks?” This wasn’t asked yesterday; it must have been ten years ago. I realized then, although I’m only writing about it now, that a lifestyle had disappeared. When I entered the business in the autumn of my 16th year, newspapering seemed the most romantic and exciting thing I could possibly do with my life. “But honey,” my mom said, “they don’t pay them anything.” Who cared? It involved knowing what was going on before anyone else did, and putting my byline on top of a story telling it to the world. “Roger Ebert” is only a name. “By Roger Ebert” are the three most magical words in the language, drawing my eye the same way a bulls-eye attracts an arrow.
In the way some kids might be awed by a youth gang, I was awed by admission to the fraternity of newspapers. I adopted the idealism and cynicism of the reporters I met there, spoke like they did, laughed at the same things, felt that I belonged. On Saturday nights about midnight at The News-Gazette, when we put the Sunday paper to bed, we gathered around the city desk, tired, released, and waited for the first papers to be brought upstairs. Ed Borman, the news editor was in the slot; Bill Schmelzle, the city editor, had Saturday nights off. Borman would crack open a six-pack. I tasted beer for the first time. I was a man. My parents, my family, my friends at school, nobody, would ever really understand the fellowship into which I entered. Borman didn’t care that I was drinking at 16. We had all put out the paper together. Now we would have a beer.
That particular passage comes from Robert Ebert’s journal he keeps on the Chicago Sun-Times’ Web site. The aforementioned entry these previous two paragraphs appear in is titled “The Best Damn Job in the Whole Damn World”. There is plenty more where that came from, and should you have an extra 10 minutes, the piece is certainly worth looking at.
Why? Because everything he touches on is right. Correct. True-to-form. It’s realistic. It’s passionate. It’s honest. And, more than anything, it’s exactly what working for a newspaper is all about. In fact, it’s exactly what drew me to that very medium and it’s also why I find myself, at the ripe old age of 24, in an interesting predicament.
You see, wanting to become a newspaper man promised me three things: One, I wasn’t going to make any money at all. Two: If I were ever to be lucky enough to find a woman to fall in love with, she, along with any family we may want to have, would have to be the absolute most understanding people in the world considering how little I would be home and how much I would never be able to give her both emotionally and monetarily. And three: I could finally consider myself “cool” on some unwarranted and undefined level that defies any sort of logic.
Recently, though, it has promised me a fourth thing that I never entirely considered until lately, as I consistently see major, historical, metropolitan daily newspapers go under quicker and harder than any mess the Titanic could have found itself in. Just as I have begun to finally get my feet wet in a business that can take years to finally break a person in, I am beginning to wonder how this business is going to survive.
I am not of the thought process that suggests newspapers will one day be obsolete. But I am also not naïve enough to think that newspapers will be fine whenever the “storm is over”. I mean, come on. It was no more than a week ago that the New York Times threatened to shut the Boston Globe down if unions were unable or unwilling to accept a total amount of $20 million in concessions. To think that someday the clouds will recede and the sun will shine enough light on newspapers to make sure everything ends up OK is absurd at this point. But to think that they will fade into obscurity altogether is a notion I refuse to either believe or accept.
So here we are. With this blog, we plan to bring you the most up-to-date information on the world of newspapers and newsgathering as it continues to evolve in ways no one could ever predict. Is there a solution to this ever-growing “newspaper problem?” How many newspapers will shut down within the next month? The next year? Are there any newspapers in the world that happen to be somehow thriving? And how are they doing it? Does a pay-to-read service really matter? And if so, does it actually tend to have an adverse affect on what newspapers in general are trying to accomplish? And, of course, how about the Internet? How does that play in? And will that transition—should it be called upon—work?
Admittedly, we don’t know any of the answers to these questions. Not even close, actually. But this is a historical time for print media as we know it and this place in time warrants being monitored and dissected to a degree that is both informational and suggestive. With this blog, we plan on being around to relay the information to you as best we can, hopefully opening the doors for discussions and ideas that very well just may be of help to an industry that was once so romantic, so pure. An industry defined by people that have an insurmountable level of passion for what they do for a living. It’s an industry that is simply too proud to let conditional factors ruin what was once the most important form of media this world had to offer.
And besides. You have to know by now that the mark print media can leave on a single person reaches so far deeper than any simple amount of ink left on one’s hand after holding a newspaper in your palm for a couple minutes.