— On the bulletin board in my office is this cartoon drawn in 2009 by the talented Lisa Benson of the Washington Post Writers Group.
It shows a little old lady replete with thick glasses, hearing aid and sensible shoes, her big purse slung over the four-wheeled walker upon which she is leaning.
Her head is turned to a newspaper sales rack that is hooked up to two intravenous bags and a heart monitor. The big newspaper headline in the rack’s display window is: “GASP, CHOKE, COUGH, COUGH.”
The little old lady tells the machine _ and thus the ailing newspaper industry _ “Hang in there, baby.”
I don’t know why I thumb-tacked that cartoon to my bulletin board three years ago, except that newspaper people seem to be prone to dark, fatalistic humor.
In the same vein, above my desk I have a photo of a black cat on a road, appearing as if it’s always crossing my path.
It’s no secret that newspapers have been struggling. It seems that every day we read about layoffs and declining circulation going on somewhere.
Certainly, other industries are going through similar belt-tightening hard times, but journalists being what they are, those cuts closest to their own lives tend to be documented far more assiduously than those in other businesses.
And because they are subjected to such frequent reports involving gloom and impending doom, a lot of readers assume that any day now, their paper won’t be showing up on the doorstep.
The reality is, however, that newspapers _ particularly community newspapers _ are pretty much holding their own and are likely to continue to do so.
Smaller papers that serve readers’ desire for local news are doing a whole lot better than their larger metro brethren that concentrate on world and national coverage. Whether on newsprint or online or whatever device comes up next, most community papers will outlive us all.
I know what I’m talking about, because in a long and checkered career, it would appear that I’ve helped kill off some really good newspapers.
I swear, I didn’t do it on purpose. It just seemed that a few years after I would leave a place, the owners would cry: “What’s the use?” and sell the printing press.
My first newspaper gig was as a teenager with the old 30,000 circulation Miami Beach Sun, where I covered mostly high school and kids sports.
Three notable people I worked with there were TV personality Larry King, horse racing giant Russ Harris and crime reporter/author Edna Buchanan. Edna went on to win a Pulitzer Prize at the Miami Herald, I went off to college, and the Miami Beach Sun went off into history a few years later.
My next paper was the Hollywood (Fla.) Sun-Tattler, whose name sounded like one of those tabloids with screaming headlines about Ulysses S. Grant being brought back to life. But no, it was a legitimate newspaper that is unfortunately no longer with us.
Then came the Miami News, a feisty afternoon paper that went toe-to-toe with the much-bigger Miami Herald. Some wonderful journalists worked at the News, and the place was a ton of fun when it wasn’t a snake pit of shoddy management and outsized egos. It ran its own obituary on Dec. 31, 1988.
The next stop for me was the Dallas Times Herald. I really liked the paper, but not Texas. Since the owners of the Times Herald weren’t about to move it to another state just for me, it was probably for the best that I moved on. That fine newspaper closed in 1991.
Now, it probably wasn’t all my fault that the first four papers I worked for shut down after I left, but for a while there, I was worried that I might be some kind of journalistic Jonah.
But I’ve been at eight papers since then, and all _ thankfully _ survive.
Still, that old feeling returned earlier this year when The Times-Picayune of New Orleans announced that it would publish only three days each week.
That gallant Pulitzer Prize-winning publication whose staff performed so heroically during and after Hurricane Katrina (long after I left its employ) _ that was once graced by the writing of O. Henry and William Faulkner _ is no longer able to perform its basic daily function, and that’s a damn shame.
You hear this a lot when newspaper folks get together for a refreshing beverage ... or two: “They’ll miss us when we’re gone.”
Well, no, they won’t, because we’re not going anywhere.
As someone who has certainly seen his share of former newspaper employers disappear, I’m more than optimistic that my industry is beginning to get things figured out, and you’ll still have your paper waiting for you when you wake up in the morning.
Following that little old lady’s advice, we’re going to “hang in there, baby.”
Sam Pollak is the editor of The Daily Star in Oneonta, N.Y. . Contact him at email@example.com.