January 24, 2022
By Arthur H. Gunther III
The newspaper brotherhood is losing its working members, and that will make orphans of all who depend on information delivery as a public trust. Papers are dying, shot by a lessened appetite for reading anything longer than a Tweet and the high cost of putting out a daily sheet when there isn’t enough advertising. Crushed also by hedge funds that buy up declining newspapers and sell off assets for quick profit.
Sad day, and ink-stained wretches might be excused for wanting to seek liquid solace during high mass at the old Hi-Ho bar in Nyack, N.Y., but it ain’t there any more, either.
Nor is the village newspaper of my stained years in its old home at 53 Hudson, Nyack, where daily the Rockland Journal-News presses shook foundations before it shook political leaders. In that simple building, for some 52 years and since 1850 in three other village fortresses of irreverence and truth, came fourth an enlightenment of sorts.
Sure, it was a local rag, that old Journal-News, the 1932 merger of the Nyack Evening Journal and the Nyack Daily News, and its always limited and sometimes green staff offered typos and other industry faux pas, but over the decades there were enough truly inspired scribes and photogs and layout people and city editors and composing room guys and pressmen and circulation people that every day, six times a week, attempt was made to give local government news, crime reports, high school and Little League sports results, PTA notices and commentary on the pulse off the veins of the ordinary man, woman and child in the Rockland County community. And the readers bought us, at 10 cents a copy, for a long time.
Along the way, things got costly, and newspaper families could not own the sheets any longer. The big national publishing outfits rescued many a community newspaper, but in the long run decided to make profit and the bottom line the gold standard instead of the who, what, when, where, why and how of whatever was happening.
Now the digital world and its immediacy and its thousands of attention-grabbing, distracting screen flashes off smart phones, tablets and computers is making newspaper profit slide. With it goes major information delivery. Democracy goes deeper into that dark tunnel when there is less news. The baddies count on that.
The danger in all this is that what passes for news will not be worthy of trust, sitting on innuendo and hearsay without fact checking. Not to say that there haven’t always been axes to grind and editorializing in newspapering, but by and large, accurate news has gotten out. Every reader must always take things with a grain of salt anyway, must always think things through in the God-given brain.
Who will watch government in the new age? Who will investigate anything?
High mass at the Hi-Ho was the usual end-of-shift in Nyack, when both the bar and the newspaper were there. Just a short walk up Broadway to the Marsilios, who gave the fraternity more drinks than bought. Celebration was had for putting another daily sheet to bed, sometimes a rough birth. Journal-Newsers weren’t paid that well and weren’t N.Y. Times, but each helped get the news out, and that can be an indescribable feeling. Yeah, public trust, for sure, no matter how flawed.
My old workplace, that 53 Hudson wonder, eventually moved on to West Nyack and then in the later 1990s was absorbed into a new publication, The Journal News of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties. It will, I am predicting, become part of further consolidation with area newspapers the Bergen Record, the Times-Herald Record and the Poughkeepsie Journal. Stalwarts will continue to seek out the news as best they can with limited staff, and kudos to my colleagues for that, but there will never be anything better serving than the hometown daily. It was family, quirks, love/hate and all.
The writer is a retired newspaperman.