October 26, 2015
By Arthur H. Gunther III
The brotherhood is losing its working members, and that will make orphans of all who depend on information delivery as a public trust. Newspapers are dying, shot by a lessened public appetite for reading anything longer than a Tweet and the high cost of putting out a daily sheet when there isn’t enough advertising. Sad day, and ink-stained wretches might be excused for wanting to seek liquid solace at the high mass of the old Hi-Ho bar in Nyack, N.Y., but it ain’t there any more, either.
Nor is the village newspaper in its old home at 53 Hudson where daily the presses shook foundations. 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.
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 made profit and the bottom line the gold standard, not 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.
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 got out. Since any reader any time must always take things with a grain of salt, must always think things through in the God-given brain, the public has been well-served.
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.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org This essay may be reproduced.
You have hit the news directly on the head again, Art. I read the NY Times, Washington Post and WSJ every day (at least the major stories and editorial opinions.)
When I see the major publications and their reporters blur the line between news and editorial it is troubling. Where are the editors? When they have to walk back a story due to poor vetting it is doubly disturbing. That is totally unacceptable from a major publication.
I understand that haste makes errors and these major news outlets publishing once every 24 hours it is impossible to keep up with TV (Cable News). Even on TV the same rush to editorialize replaces straight news. Everybody has an opinion and the facts be damned!
True, Howard. The profession has to be straight with the readers, or it will distort the truth, as best as can be reported.
Reporters and journalists are incredibly important to any open society. I can only hope that there will always be readers who appreciate the honest reporting of the facts, however they are delivered. We are in deep trouble, otherwise.
Mary Ann, that was well put!