Archive for newspapers

THE YESTERDAYS OF OUR LIVES

Posted in The News with tags , , , , on November 6, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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YESTERDAY, for one day at least, everybody had to have a copy of their newspaper. People waited in long lines to buy them, newsstands ran out of copies early in the morning, and subscribers had their papers stolen from their doorsteps. Everybody had to have a memento from this historic election — proof that it indeed happened, proof that they were there when it happened.

Customers wait outside the Washington Post building Wednesday afternoon for special editions of the newspaper. (Kevin Clark/The Washington Post )

Customers wait outside the Washington Post building Wednesday afternoon for special editions of the newspaper. (Kevin Clark/The Washington Post )

It was a reminder to me of what newspapers mean to people, and of what they really do best — document in words and pictures the history of our world, the history of what happened the day before. They are a daily souvenir of our life. And when our favorite team wins a championship, when the nation is attacked by terrorists, when voters elect their first nonwhite president, we want the hard evidence in the form of a newspaper. DVR’d newscasts and Web printouts won’t do.

Newspapers are the greatest medium for recording this incremental history as it happens, day by day. But, for some reason, the executives running newspapers decided a while back that people already know what happened yesterday and don’t need to read all about it, and that they would rather have a daily crystal ball that tells them what’s gonna happen next. (I’ve written about this upsetting trend before.)

At The Hartford Courant, where I worked for nearly 10 years, we couldn’t write headlines or stories that told people what actually happened. We had to be “forward-looking” and stir up emotions with overblown, melodramatic and preferably alliterative headlines. The argument was that “readers already know what happened by the time the paper comes out, so you have to tell them something new.”

Therefore, “8 Die In Mall Shooting” is an unacceptable headline, but “Mall Massacre” is great, as is “Could It Happen At Your Mall?” I remember the day of the Madrid train bombing in 2004 — another historic day. I wasn’t allowed to write the headline “191 Killed In Train Bombings.” The front-page banner headline we used was “Al-Qaida Or ETA?” Huh? ETA? What did the train’s arrival time have to do with anything? Oh, ETA was a terrorist group suspected in the bombings. So, we went with a screaming question head that told readers little, even if they knew what ETA was. I asked then and I ask now: What is wrong with documenting, for history’s sake, exactly what happened yesterday?

I haven’t seen yesterday’s Courant (I still haven’t looked at a Courant since its redesign), but it wouldn’t surprise me to see a headline like “2012 Campaign Gets Underway” or “Is America Now Ready For A Latino President?”

I remember finding old, yellowed newspapers in a bedroom closet when I was a little boy. I vaguely remember them, but I think they were about Kennedy’s election or his assassination. In any case, they were historical records of historic days, saved by my parents for posterity.

That is what newspapers are to people. Unfortunately for newspaper publishers, every day isn’t as monumental as this Tuesday was. But that’s the cool thing about documenting history — you never know when the next monumental day is coming. Newspapers have to be ready, with the best writers and editors and photographers on hand, because history can happen at any time. And what happened yesterday can really matter to people.

ALL THE NEW THAT FITS

Posted in The News with tags , , , , on September 29, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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THE “sleeker, smarter” Hartford Courant hit the stands yesterday (and probably stayed there all day). Having worked at the fatter, dumber Courant for 10 years, I suppose I should have checked it out, but even morbid curiosity couldn’t get me to do so.

Luckily, courant.com has a link right at the top of the front page so I could Learn More About The New Hartford Courant. Click and you’re treated to a three-minute promotional piece aired by sister channel Fox 61 (which, like the Courant, is owned by the Tribune Co.) about “The NEW Hartford Courant.” And wouldn’t you know it — they’re really excited about it!

Turns out the NEW Courant is “edgy”! (Too bad “edgy” hasn’t been edgy for about 10 years). I learned that the NEW Courant uses a new font that “really bolds up the design”! Well said!

The NEW Courant is “stacked with fresh new features.” And it will be “easier to read”! The paper’s storied history of “insightful writing and in-depth coverage” will continue! Well, I’m sold!

And so are the Fox 61 anchorbots, who seem particularly excited about the groundbreaking vertical “letterhead.” Best of all, the anchor dude tells us, the weekday papers will have “less pages so the readers can get their news quickly!” Yeah, all those pages of news were really standing in the way of my getting the news.

If you don’t feel like watching the Fox 61 video, you can simply read the accompanying error-filled transcription, which looks more like a copy editing test (if newspapers were still hiring copy editors.)

OK, OK, maybe I’ll check out the new Courant one of these days. I’ll just have to bold myself up first.

–30–

Posted in Life, The News with tags , on September 12, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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Update

IT looks like I’m gonna have to turn elsewhere for unedited reader-submitted “news” stories, day-old national wire articles, inaccurate weather forecasts and big photos of kids taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather.

Yep, my Hartford Courant has finally stopped coming. Now I just hope the bills stop coming, too.

RE-COURANT NIGHTMARE

Posted in Life, The News with tags , on September 9, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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IMAGINE you just went through a horrible breakup and your ex keeps showing up every morning on your front lawn, waiting for you to come out of the house. You’d freak out, right?

Welcome to my world. That’s been my problem every day since I ended my long-term relationship with The Hartford Courant back in May. When I quit my job, I walked out the door and didn’t turn back — it was a clean break, I thought. Yet every morning I wake up to an ugly reminder of our doomed relationship.

In happier times, getting the Courant for free was one of the best perks of the job. OK, it was the only one, but still…

When I quit, I figured the paper would stop coming. Yet four months later, it still arrives every morning. The only difference? Every couple weeks, I get a bill or a phone call, usually with a warning that if I don’t pay up now, the paper will stop coming. I ignore them all, and guess what? The paper just keeps on coming. And coming. I think it’s just kinda mocking me now.

As much as I’d love to send my money to The Courant, I never actually subscribed to the paper — turns out the paper subscribed me, without my permission, a few weeks after I quit my job and my free employee subscription ended. Guess The Courant needs every last person for its circulation figures these days.

Of course it could all stop tomorrow: I got another phone call from the paper today, and the automated voice warned me that my subscription would end Wednesday morning “for nonpayment” if I didn’t call back and settle up. Yeah, I’ll get right on that…

So, I’m curious to see what happens tomorrow: Am I rid of my ex for good, or will she be there in the morning as always?

To be continued…

THE WARNING PAPER

Posted in The News with tags , , , , on September 8, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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WHEN Hurricane Gustav failed to wipe New Orleans off the face of the earth once and for all last week, I got the sense the news media were kinda ticked off. Like, ‘OK, we played up this sucker and not much happened, so now we gotta find some new threat to dwell on.’

This “day after” was not the kind of “Day After” the media enjoy. The front page of my old paper, The Hartford Courant (which seems to be on the verge of being wiped off the face of the earth itself), had a blaring, “war-is-declared”-size headline that alerted everyone that New Orleans’ levees held! Somehow I get the sense that that’s not the story of catastrophe the media were hoping for, after days of tracking Gustav’s path of destruction and practically salivating over the possibility of a Katrina: Part II. (Just a couple days ago, the New York Times published a piece headlined “Gustav Was No Katrina, but Next Time …” Ah, newspapers love those ominous ellipses.)

The same thing happened with Y2K (remember that phantom shitstorm?) After years — yes, years — of dire warnings in the media, nothing happened as our clocks ticked from 1999 to 2000. No planes falling from the sky, no bank collapses, no water shortages, no riots in the streets, no two thousand zero zero party over oops out of time. (The lack of disaster pissed off the Courant’s editor at the time, I was told.)

The media hate when bullets are dodged, because it makes it that much harder to scare readers and viewers the next time doom and gloom loom. Years ago, newspapers stopped being “papers of record” and became fortune tellers, predicting events rather than recording them for posterity. Because papers rarely break stories any more in this world of round-the-clock cable news, they like to focus on what could happen. And if that just so happens to scare the shit out of us, all the better.

Which is why no strong breeze in the Caribbean goes unnoticed, why no case of bird flu or West Nile virus goes unreported, why no snippet of al-Qaida footage goes unplayed. They’re all threats! They could kill us all! We need to buy duct tape! It’s a story we can’t afford to miss!

Unfortunately for us, though, disasters are rarely foreseen (Nostradamus notwithstanding). Katrina, 9/11, earthquakes, the Minneapolis bridge collapse, the tsunami, the space shuttle explosions, the Virginia Tech shootings, wildfires, the “Speed Racer” movie — they all happened without warning.

Unfortunately for the news media, these true disasters happen too rarely — there’s a lot of time and space to fill up in the meantime, so they try to hold onto their audience with dire predictions of the next disaster. Which explains all the “could it happen here?” stories, all the “could we survive the big one?” stories. (Makes you wonder — how come they didn’t warn us about the disaster in Iraq?)

Yes, our news media are extremely valuable in times of real disaster — ironically, they can bring a sense of calm and community in the darkest of days. So then why must they scare us the rest of the time? I guess they figure that if they warn us about enough potential disasters, sooner or later they’ll be right.

I’m not holding my breath. Well, actually I am, but that’s only because I don’t want to get SARS.

THE ALTERNATIVE (UNIVERSE) PRESS

Posted in The News, The Popular with tags , , , , , , on July 22, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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SIXTY more of my former co-workers at The Hartford Courant lost their jobs this month as the newspaper business continues to self-destruct. Thousands of newspaper writers, editors and columnists across the country have lost their jobs this year. A friend of mine who quit the business several years ago to go into teaching just told me his school can’t even afford to print the student paper anymore (now there’s a lesson for the kids…)

But I’m here to tell you that there is a place where journalism is still alive and well, where reporters are plentiful and leaders are held accountable for their actions — unfortunately it’s on “Battlestar Galactica.”

The Sci Fi Channel show takes place in a parallel universe mostly identical to ours, except for the cornerless paper, the gods-damn frackin’ swear words and those pesky killer Cylons. And one other thing — all the reporters.

Now, I love the show and I know it’s science fiction, but I can’t figure out why every time President Roslin holds a press conference, dozens of reporters show up, clamoring to ask the next question. Who are these people?

This is a society that has dwindled down to 40,000 or so survivors (the number, shown in the opening credits, typically decreases from week to week) living aboard a fleet of ships, looking for a new home planet (possibly Earth.) Seriously, does this small group of people really have 30 or 40 news outlets? How come I never see anyone reading a cornerless newspaper or watching TV (do they even have TV?) If you do the math, there’s a reporter for every thousand survivors. Yet, far as I can tell, they have one doctor.

Whatever. The show is allegorical, using sci-fi to address modern-day American issues such as terrorism and war and torture and other big stuff we’d rather not think about unless cool spaceships are blowing up. But as “Battlestar Galactica” goes on, the unstoppable evil killing machines out to destroy humanity seem to reflect our real world better than the huge press corps trying to get to the bottom of things.