Friday, September 22, 2023

The printed word

 I have been a subscriber to The Baltimore Sun, a seven-day-a-week print subscriber, for thirty-seven years, since I began working on its copy desk, and I have begun to wonder what the point is. 

Since The Sun publishes online first, I have already seen its stories the day before, sometimes several days before, they appear in the print edition. And I will also have seen the Associated Press and New York Times articles The Sun picks up as well. So I am essentially paying for a print newspaper to read the "Ask Amy" column and the comic strips. (Yes, they're in the online edition as well, but there is something just wrong about reading a comic strip on an iPad.)

Beyond that, the quality of the print edition, since Alden Global Capital shut down The Sun's printing plant and transferred print production to the Gannett organ in Wilmington, Delaware, has been abysmal. Light inking is the least of the problems. 

The cost, however, has been rising. I believe it was Al Neuharth of Gannett who experienced the illumination that a decline in advertising revenue could be offset by jacking up the circulation prices, since newspaper readers were dependent on their habit. Unfortunately, neither Neuharth nor the other corporate illuminati ever figured out a way to attract new readers, and my generation with the newspaper habit is steadily proceeding to a location to which the circulation department cannot deliver. 

Dammit, I want my morning ritual, in my chair with a cup of strong coffee and my newspaper. The main pleasure that has survived is the grumbling. Tribune eliminated copy editing even before the company was acquired by Alden Global, and the daily procession of subject-verb disagreements, misplaced modifiers, and other offenses against English usage does not pass unremarked on at these premises. There is also a grim satisfaction in noticing when the online text has been incorporated intact without altering references, a clear indication of the lack of an editor's eye on the page. Carp, carp, carp, that's the life. 

I could call circulation to cancel print, converting the savings to bourbon money. But I might just ride it out until one of the sharp-pencil people at Alden Global determines that the cost of print production, even with Gannett, is greater than the mingy returns from print advertising and subscriptions, turning my seven-day-a-week newspaper into a three-day-a-week newspaper, or simply online only. 

In forty years at newspapers I only twice heard an editor call the pressroom to say, "Stop the presses." I think it will be a good deal less than forty until all of them are stopped.