Arts & Culture

The End of Print

When I was asked to blog for a week on Jewcy, I was pleased, but didn’t want to just shamelessly self-promote. So let’s get that part out of the way quickly. My new novel, Shining City, is about a middle … Read More

By / December 12, 2008

When I was asked to blog for a week on Jewcy, I was pleased, but didn’t want to just shamelessly self-promote. So let’s get that part out of the way quickly. My new novel, Shining City, is about a middle class guy who becomes a pimp. I considered spending the week blogging about Eliot Spitzer (in the news again as a Slate columnist), or the D.C. Madam and her client, the still-in-office Senator Vitter, or Bill Clinton’s new dating opportunities now that his wife is going to be the Secretary of State. Because who doesn’t like reading about sex? You’re actually reading about it right now – on the Web, however. See, all of these great sex scandals used to sell newspapers. But technology has changed that and I can’t help but think we will be a little poorer as a result.

The news this week that the Tribune Company is filing for bankruptcy has sent me into an elegiac mood. The New York Times mortgaging their buildings to meet expenses doesn’t exactly alleviate the gray skies either. Yes, I know newspapers will last for a while longer, sputtering and gasping, but the writing, as it were, is clearly on the wall-to-wall (even the jokes now are Net-based).

As a kid, my family got home delivery of the White Plains Reporter Dispatch and I read the comics every day. With dull scissors I would cut out the daily Dennis the Menace – a single cartoon, not a strip – and tape it to my bedroom door. Newspapers seemed eternal at the time. Although I shoveled snow off people’s front paths during the endless suburban, pre-global warming winters, my first real job where adults expected me to show up at the same time each day and perform a specific set of duties, was in the news business: I was a paperboy for the same outfit that brought me Dennis the Menace. Each day I would pick up a stack of fifty papers on a pre-arranged corner, load them into the basket of my bike and speed off. I think I made about twelve dollars a week.

My grandfather had been in the newspaper distribution business (he had kept many of his relatives employed during the Depression) and one of my most vivid memories of his visits to our house was the day he took me out in his car and drove me on my paper route. Since this is Jewcy, I will report that he was kvelling.

As a collector of headlines back then, I can assure you MEN WALK ON MOON or NIXON RESIGNS resonate far more in large boldface. This belief must be genetic, since my son took the OBAMA WINS headline from the Los Angeles Times the day after the election and taped it to his door.

As an undergraduate, I was co-editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, a weekly. I was in the thrall of Hunter S. Thompson (whose career had begun in newspapers) at the time and could think of few cooler things than a career in print journalism. I covered a campaign visit of Jimmy Carter to the Electric Boat plant in Groton, Connecticut, and wrote a screed for the paper in the style of my gonzo hero. Absent the Wild Turkey and the mescaline that fuelled Thompson’s rants, it did not measure up to his standards, but as a senior in college I knew I had nothing but time to get there.

When I graduated, I managed to get hired as a copy boy at the New York Daily News. This was right before the advent of computers, a time when reporters would rip pages out of their typewriters and actually yell "Copy!" at which point one of our ranks would run to the bellowing reporter, grab the pages and convey them to the editing desk. Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill and Liz Smith were all working there at the time. I got coffee, ran copy, and drove editors home to the suburbs. Once I got to sit next to the bench at a Knick game so I could run the photographer’s film back to the office.

The tabloid life was not for me, however, and I began to write for the SoHo Weekly News, a paper for readers who viewed the Village Voice as too mainstream. I had a simpatico editor name Peter Ochiogrosso and, perhaps because they paid thirty-five dollars an article, he let me write about more or less whatever or whomever I chose. I did pieces on Tom Waits, Richard Belzer, and Fran Lebowitz. There was one about street musicians, and another about scenic views from the New York City subway system.  During this period I read the New York Times every day, and the Post for the sports section. Every Wednesday I would buy the Voice.

My career took another turn shortly thereafter and it was a long time before I wrote for newspapers again. I had been living in Southern California for several years when I was approached by an editor for the Los Angeles Times and asked if I wanted to contribute something. They were asking me? Where had this guy been when I was in my twenties and wanted to be Clark Kent? I was happy to comply. I thought this would be a good way to clear the throat, branch out and reach new readers. And I would be able to do it as a sideline for the rest of my career because newspapers would always be there.  This was four years ago. I suspect papers in some form will survive.  Interestingly, they are thriving in India where there is an influx of people into the educated classes but no money for computers. America is another story.

I love the Internet for its easy access, its endless content, its continually updated information. But newspapers have a tactile element, something having to do with the feel of actual paper between your fingers, that pixels and bytes can’t replicate.  When you’re eating your morning cereal and you want to see who won last night’s game, turning a screen on just doesn’t provide the same Proustian frisson as holding a broadsheet and seeing the results in inky print.

Seth Greenland, author of Shining City, spent the past week guest blogging on Jewcy.  This is his parting post. Want more? Buy his book