Last Sunday morning, I stumbled to my front door and looked through the glass, blinking at the reflected glare from the early sun. Yep, it was snow, lots of it. I slipped on a pair of boots, crunched through the white stuff on my sidewalk, and picked up the blue plastic bag containing The Commercial Appeal. Despite the weather, my newspaper was waiting for me on my lawn. This is no small thing.
A daily newspaper is an amazing collective enterprise. On the day before — a Saturday — writers conducted interviews and did research. They attended meetings, games, and concerts to gather the raw material to write their stories — on deadline. Photographers were shooting all over town. Copyeditors then checked the stories for grammar, typographical errors, misspellings, etc. and wrote headlines and photo captions. Designers laid out the stories, pictures, and ads on their computers, before sending them to the printing presses. Pressmen worked all night, producing the final product. Delivery people then loaded bundles of papers on trucks, stuffed them into plastic bags, and drove all over the city through icy streets to make sure I had something to read with my coffee.
I pay $200 a year or so for home delivery. I consider it a good deal. Unfortunately, I'm in a shrinking minority.
Readers of the Flyer know that we often delight in criticizing our daily competitor, but the truth is we would be infinitely diminished as a city without The Commercial Appeal. Last Friday, The Rocky Mountain News — like the CA, a Scripps daily — shut down, putting 200 or so people out of work and depriving the citizens of Denver of a vital, 150-year-old community voice.
Can it happen here? Maybe. More staff cuts have been announced at the CA; more good journalists will soon be looking for work. In these tight economic times, more people than ever may succumb to the temptation to read the news for free on the Internet, instead of paying for a tangible printed product. But that news has to be written by somebody, no matter its final form. I'd prefer that it come from trained journalists drawing a paycheck.
A free and untrammeled press is one of the cornerstones of our republic. Unfortunately, the untrammeled "corporatization" of our print media has brought the daily newspaper business to a crossroads. Here's hoping, for all our sakes, they find a way forward.
It's deep in a November night in Memphis, and I'm awakened by rain. It's coming down hard, sounding like a million pebbles hitting the roof. The gutter I've been meaning to clean is overflowing outside the bedroom window. A flash of lightning illuminates the room, and I do what I've done since I was a boy: count the seconds 'til the thunder rolls. I get almost to 10 before I hear a distant rumble. Two miles or so. Someone else's lightning ...