It’s been decades since people regularly carried pocket watches. Heck, since the advent of cell phones, many people don’t even bother with a wrist watch anymore. But if you buy a new pair of men’s jeans, you’ll still find a small pocket stitched in (always on the right side) inside the regular pocket. It’s designed for carrying a pocket watch.
The newspaper business is sort of like that. For some reason they probably don’t understand, media outlets across the country are still killing trees and printing newspapers every day, although fewer people than ever are reading them.
In his new book, “Late Edition: A Love Story,” journalist Bob Greene attempts to explain why. Metaphorically speaking, he pulls out his pocket watch and studies it at great length. The book details his first job in journalism, working at the now-defunct Columbus Citizen-Journal in central Ohio.
“Today a kid who wants his words to be read by the outside world can satisfy that desire within a matter of seconds,” Greene writes. But this wasn’t always the case. “During my first copyboy summer at the Citizen-Journal, the only way a person could have his words read by the whole city was if an editor in the newspaper building judged those words meritorious of publication.”
Greene admits that “the loss of absolute control by the men who owned the giant presses in America’s cities,” and they were, of course, almost all men, “is a change so profound that it will take us generations to fully realize its implications.” He seems almost wistful for the good old days. Having the owner of the printing press decide what would be reported on, he adds, “may not have been an altogether bad thing.”
Au contraire. Just a couple of recent examples demonstrate the danger of posting a gatekeeper to decide how (or whether) stories will be reported. Consider a measure that recently passed the Senate Finance Committee. “Health-Care Bill Wouldn’t Raise Deficit, Report Says,” The Washington Post headlined on Oct. 8. “All told, the package would reduce federal budget deficits by $81 billion over the next decade, the CBO forecast, adding that the savings probably would continue to accumulate well into the future,” the Post story said.