May 10, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III



     Royal Clinton Taplin or RCT, as this longtime newspaperman was either admiringly or derisively called by reader, public official and wrong-doer, has hit the last keys on -30-, the traditional end for a story, joining the irreverent ones in whatever heaven, hell or purgatory awaits those who try to offer the who, what, when, where, how and why of things.

     RCT, my colleague and friend, was a reporter for the former Rockland Journal-News in Nyack, N.Y., and then for The Record in Hackensack, N.J. He never wore socks, but his shoes were worn from his old-style beat reporting as he hit the bricks, particularly on investigative pieces. 

     Taplin was used to seeing his name in print — bylines mean you make deadline, you file your story, take the photograph, do the graphics. You get credit, you earn your keep in the daily rush. Now do it again, from scratch. RCT did that even when not paid for his time.

     A newspaper woman or man, a staff photographer, a graphics designer, are only as good as the last effort, and most times, even if the individual does a boffo job — finds wrongdoing, gets the man-bites-dog story, describes humanity at its worse, then its best, he or she gets no time to eat the celebratory cake. You never find the cherry on top because there is always more news out there. The city editor bellows out another gig for you; it is really “Front Page” out there.

     Thank god. People thirst for information; it has been ever so. The public wants gossip; seeks facts; salivates over tabloid-like pieces on crime, murder and mayhem; cries reading human-interest pieces; and, unfortunately, can cozy up to so-called “fake news,” which means slanting, deliberately misleading, skewing the facts, even inventing facts, all for an agenda.

     Today, it is more difficult than ever to work for a newspaper, because there are so few, because staff has been reduced 80 percent, because hedge-hunter investors buy newspapers to kill them, to sell off assets, kicking free speech and democracy’s foundation in the ass.

      All this means society fumbles in the dark; local government isn’t watched; big government tries to manage coverage, as in embedding journalists in wartime.

     Readers always want to shoot the messenger; time forever they have claimed that you “cannot believe what you read in the newspaper.” And, yes, responsible publishers and editors would agree — always take things with a grain of salt; question, write letters to the paper; but, for god’s sake, engage. Stories must be reported if society is to have a chance to be free and stay that way.

    Royal Clinton Taplin, as irreverent as can be, a true Damon Runyon character out of Hollywood casting, knew that. 

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.