Newspapers Past, Present and Future

Gary Gilreath

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I, the writer, would like to take the opportunity to thank all who read my first ever article, which was published in the February 25, 2010 issue of Spare Change News. Your responses to my question of whether to stay or go were quite supportive. So I would like to take this time to let all know I have decided to remain a member of the Spare Change family.

A famous person once told me that you are only as good as your last article. From this thought, I spent many hours brainstorming my next story. I found myself in Central Square, Cambridge, asking people whether there was a subject they wanted to read about. And lo and behold it hit me—as a matter of fact it is in front of you right now.

The topic is newspapers, the idea of bringing the reader the news. The how and when of distributing the news to the public. I personally feel that newspapers have taken a wrong turn at Albequerque. I want to put this thought under the microscope of public scrutiny. To begin with, the freedom of speech is guaranteed to us by the Constitution. I feel this is slowly being taken away from the public and we don’t even know it. We the writers act as truth to our source. This is to be protected first and foremost. Many of writers in the past were placed in contempt by the courts for protecting their sources.

The news of today is distributed to the general public to be completely read in thirty seconds. This is felt to be our attention span on many things. Today, with the help of computers and the internet, to read a novel is so yesterday. In the newspaper world, the thought of ink in the writers’ blood has almost gone out the door. This writer will attempt to show you how the news you so value today is condensed and distorted so as to be read in as little time as possible. That even today your evening news reporters on television are worried about their jobs. With new technology bringing the news to America’s households, why watch television?

To look at news of the past and how it was brought to the public, I sought out a newspaper man with the history to help us understand the newspapers of the past and how they are molded today. I encountered a man who is well known by the public. The man I was introduced to was Donald Wysocki. He has fifty years in the paper business, and he worked the majority of this time with the Boston Globe. This man has met or written about many people who molded the great state of Massachusetts. He also has a reputation of knowing where the bodies are kept, so to speak. When Wysocki started out, there were seventeen papers in Boston alone. The Boston Globe, American Record, etc., etc. He remembers a section of Boston called Newspaper Row.

If you ever walk down Washington Street by Washington and Milk, look up at the buildings. They still carry the names of former papers. Go further down to Washington and State. This is Newspaper Row. It has been told that if you stood at this corner, you could feel the ground vibrate. You didn’t know if it was the subway or the newspaper presses.

When speaking to Mr. Wysocki, I hear a tale of a time when the paper was sold twice a day, in morning and evening editions. There were days when people lined up for blocks for the papers, to read articles by famed writers such as “Irishman Dave Egan”. This gentleman wrote exquisitely, but he would put people through the wringer. Doctors, lawyers and judges were all subject to his wrath.

This was the time when many papers failed. Advertising dollars were the lead topic of the day, not the news. These dollars either controlled the paper or destroyed it. I put this question to Mr. Wysocki—who controlled the papers of that time? He spoke of identity, and asserted that a printer must give this to his readers and to the paper. We both agreed that for any business to succeed, it must identify with its audience.

To recap, we have learned about the growth of newspapers. There was a time when newspapers ran two editions daily. Readers lined up for blocks to read articles written by well-known reporters. As time went by, newspapers grew so fast that they ended up closing. And now this brings us to today, with computers, the internet, and new technology.

Today with the general public having an attention span of only thirty seconds, there is no need for writers to identify with their audience. Daily papers today are smaller, and internet news is only a few paragraphs. In speaking with Mr. Wysocki, we decide that the only reason the public buys the paper is because it is a habit. It is like we don’t care what we read.

To take a look at the future, I once again put questions to Mr. Wysocki. He tells me that in order for something to recover it must first be destroyed. When we speak of newspapers, the damage is already done. And now the damage is being done to the general public.

Mr. Wysocki also spoke of the Wall Street Journal’s model in the modern newspaper era. Today you must pay to read the Wall Street Journal online. Other papers do not charge to be read on the internet. Also, the Wall Street Journal recently started a daily paper for New York. This paper I feel will identify with its readers.

In this modern media age, advertising is still crucial. For example, if you run an ad in the New York Times, the cost is around ninety thousand dollars. To advertise in the Wall Street Journal, the price is around nineteen thousand. The different models that these papers provide means that the recipe for the greatest success in the future is uncertain.

In a time when the general public is working on identity, newspapers must repair themselves too. In Spare Change at least, we the writers will continue to try to identify with our readers. 

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