Thursday, March 19, 2009

Another World

These have been unhappy times for newspapers. Following on the heels of the Rocky Mountain News, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, around since the 1880's, called it quits this week. And who knows, the famous P-I globe may end up on E-Bay yet.
Also a company I worked for back in the 1980's and `90's, the Journal Register Company, became the first newspaper chain to file for bankrupcy a couple of weeks ago. JRC, based out of Philadelphia, owned a dozen newspapers in Pennsylvania, NY, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Unfortunately for JRC, the Connecticut Attorney General must have woke up last week with a burr in his butt, and exclaimed that JRC executives shouldn't be getting 1.7 million bonuses (chump change of course by Bernie Madoff standards) when they owe all kinds of taxes to the state ($21.5 mill, just in corporate taxes).
Fortunately, I was low enough down in the food chain to be left alone. But the CEO at the time I was there fired publishers as often as he changed his shirt. The rumor was that he actually had a bodyguard in case he ever ran into a former (or current) employee who had gone over the edge.
As a company, I don't have much sympathy for JRC, but when newspapers close shop I have sympathy for people who lose their jobs. In the case of the P-I, until recent years when the Seattle Times and P-I became almost interchangable, it was usually considered the better Seattle daily. Tom Robbins wrote for the P-I; so did Frank Herbert, who wrote Dune; they even named a street after one of their reporter-editors, Royal Broughan.
The P-I did more investigative reporting and won more awards. I'll miss the P-I because it actually covered Seattle. The Times is liable to have a story on Enumclaw or Western Washington on its front page than one about Seattle.
It's a different world today. When I was growing up in Rhode Island, I'd wait for the paper boy. He'd deliver to all three floors in my house, two floors next door, and a couple of papers across the street. He'd deliver 20-30 papers in a block. Now, I live in an apartment building of about a dozen people. I've never seen anyone reading a newspaper, and most don't watch TV news either, which is crimes, fires and car accidents anyway.
News is moving more to the Internet. Paper is getting too expensive and I've written a few things myself that a tree shouldn't have had to die for. But people at the P-I seemed a little embarassed to compare their on-line ``paper'' to the actual paper. An on-line paper just doesn't employ the amount of people that an actual newspaper does.
No doubt, these are interesting times. Some of the smaller suburban papers are still doing well. They don't have the overhead and people will always want to read about their own kids hitting home runs in Little League. There are easily a half dozen web sites trying to fill the P-I void and there will be more. I don't know if anyone knows how it's all going to turn out.

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