THE BACK PAGE
Time has changed the newspaper business. Drastically. People with master's degrees in journalism tell me it's for the better. Why don't I agree? There was a time when I was addicted to newspapers--all of them. Now I can take them or leave them. To me there is no bigger rip-off these days than the Sunday newspaper. Who reads them at all anymore?
Once the advertisers find this out about the Sunday papers, it will be all over.
I remember getting out of bed at 5 a.m. to drive downtown to the out-of-town newspaper agency to buy seven different papers all at once. I'd hurry home and rush through them before going to work at the police beat.
Today's big, metropolitan newspapers are, for the most part, yawn-inducing. But it's a matter of taste. You may think today's papers are better than ever.
All I know is that when I came into this business, people felt they had to read a newspaper every morning and afternoon. Now most people consider themselves well-read if they glance at the headlines of USA Today.
Editors are so busy trying to provide news for women, for minorities, teens, the aged and those addicted to running marathons and lifting weights that covering and uncovering news is a secondary consideration.
If you ask them about this, editors proudly pronounce they are presenting their readers with "a rich mix."
The truth is that today's papers are designed to present department-store advertisements. Once the department stores and grocery stores realize they can do as well by sending out their own advertising fliers, the great newspaper game will be over.
Then we can all get by with our copy of USA Today.
You may find it hard to believe, but there was a time when every newspaper in the country had its own individual look and personality.
They all didn't have color pictures and a full-page weather map. And we got along without them.
Do you think it's worth taking up an entire page in the paper so three Mormons visiting Las Vegas for a day can look up the temperature back in Salt Lake City?
One of the reasons the papers have changed is because, in recent years, it has attracted too many elitists with advanced degrees in journalism.
Many of them are skilled with computers. But this doesn't make them interesting writers.
Good stories are recognized by people who have lived full lives. . .who have taken professional risks.
Last week I spent a few days in Chicago with Paul Galloway, an old friend I used to work with there. He is probably the best newspaper feature writer I've ever known. "Remember the night you tried to throw a chair through the editor's door?" I asked. He laughed and nodded his head.
The story is so well-known to both of us there was no need to repeat it.
This is it, briefly:
One night, years back, Paul and I were sitting at a bar near the paper, watching the Boston Red Sox play Cincinnati in the World Series. Our paper had a new sports editor who had decided to bring me into line by refusing to allow me to go to Boston to cover the Series there.
After a goodly number of beers had been served, Paul and I fell silent. Paul got up from his barstool and excused himself.
"Wait right here," he said. "There's something I have to get done."
I thought nothing of it. He was gone for exactly seven outs.
"Where'd you go?" I asked. "You missed a great play by Carl Yastrzemski."
Galloway was ebullient.
"I did it," he said, pumped for the moment with satisfaction.
"I walked into the city room. There's a whole bunch of people sitting around. I picked up a big swivel chair and went right over to our editor's door and threw the chair right at it.
"Made a hell of a noise. But the glass in the door must be bulletproof. It didn't break. The chair bounced back at me. I picked it up and threw it at the door a second time. Same thing happened.
"I turned around and everybody was staring at me. I walked right back past the city desk and said: 'Log it. Write down exactly what you saw.'"
Galloway grinned: "I guess that will show them how we feel about this."
The next day, Galloway had second thoughts. He decided it might be better to let things cool down a bit before returning to work.
He called in sick, announcing that he had cancer. The news of his malady spread around the newsroom and everyone was so worried about Galloway's health that the incident of the chair was forgotten.
On the following day, Galloway returned.
The city editor approached him, a bit diffidently.
"Are you all right to work? What did the doctor say?"
Galloway grinned happily.
"Everything's fine," he said. "Turns out it was just a skin cancer."
Incredibly, the incident of the chair was totally passed over.
I can't imagine that happening at one of today's totally efficient, humorless newspapers. Maybe that's why I don't like them so much anymore.
CREATIVELY CRAZED POP ECCENTRIC ROBYN HI... v7-01-92
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