Thursday, October 16, 2008


1. Following my recent posts on the late Red Bank Register, I certainly never expected suburban daily newspapers to go before city ones. Thirty years ago, metro newspapers were on the ropes, and were starting their zoning efforts to try to capture the suburbs. Now papers that are based in the suburbs -- whether large, such as the Orange County Register, or small, such as the now-deceased Noblesville Times, are collapsing. The East Valley Tribune near Phoenix seems to be on its last legs, and the Columbian in Vancouver, Wash., is contemplating Chapter 11. Is this just the coincidence of bad business decisions? Is it national inserters buying newspapers by total metro penetration and punishing ones with huge penetrations in small areas? Or are suburban dailies less essential than urban ones, because you don't have the big government/big sports agenda? Whatever, it continues to amaze me, because I got into the business when everyone was putting their money on suburban dailies.

2. Personal paranoia: As a copy editor, I am starting to feel as if all the half-grudging respect given us in years past was simply pro forma. If all that copy editors did was lay out pages and do the mechanics of producing a print newspaper -- which, OK, at many papers is all they do -- then one can see the weakness in the field. But is not the elimination of error, the honing of language, the institutional memory of fact, important regardless of medium? You can say that "readers will catch it and we can correct it online," but isn't the point to keep the mistakes away from readers? You can say that the resources of the Internet make the sort of trivia arcana that copy editors keep in their heads less necessary, but that still requires a reporter or assigning editor to bring to their own story the critical mindset a copy editor has.

But copy editing positions are being massacred at newspapers, enough that I am now thinking that many of the enconiums about the "last line of defense" were simply the equivalent of crocodile tears -- not so much from reporters, who are generally thankful for the 999 mistakes you do catch even while maintaining a lifetime grudge about the one thing you make wrong, but from managers who think that as long as you get a story on the dart board, it's the same as making a bullseye. (This is decidedly not true of the folks I report to, by the way.) Assigning editors admittedly often occupy the same sort of occupational hell generally reserved for middle-school principals, but they don't get promoted because the percentages in the story add up right or the name of the company was hyphenated correctly, or the stories have (or don't have) all the first names right; they get promoted when their reporters 1) do stories that please the top brass and 2) aren't running in to the editor complaining about their supervisor. This makes the value of copy editors nice, but dispensible. Well, I'm off this weekend to the midterm board meeting of the American Copy Editors Society; perhaps we will find the answer.

I am not sure readers feel the same way, but at least that would be consistent with the theme of this blog that newspapers are in the pickle they are in because they do not think like readers do.

3. The remaining words "Nevius Voorhees" above the store entrance in Trenton reminded me that one of the things I loved about downtown department stores were the brass plaques so many had on their buildings announcing the name of the store. These were admittedly retail hubris; the typical store, as old photos showed, was often covered with gaudy signs, and department stores wanted to show their superiority through understatement. Yet the giant sign on State Street in Chicago reading


in, what, five-inch tall embossed brass letters said: This is no ordinary store. I can remember these plaques on Ayres' and Wasson's in my hometown, Hudson's in Detroit, Jordan Marsh in Boston, Pogue's in Cincinnati, and many other stores. (An alternative was the serifed letters above the door, looking like a Roman inscription, as in "THE F. & R. LAZARUS & COMPANY" over the back door of the store in Columbus. Never understood why that second "and" was there.) I wonder if anyone took photos of them before they disappeared. I wonder where they in fact went. Did heirs to the store retrieve them before the building was demolished or repurposed?

Newspapers are little better about keeping their physical history. Recently I was in the lobby of the Wilmington News Journal, where there is a large artwork that notes that it was in the lobby of the newspaper's old downtown headquarters but was left there and made its way to the new building on Basin Road circuituously and after some years. There's a similar piece in the Hackensack lobby of the Bergen Record, in a building the newspaper plans to abandon in a matter of months. Will it follow to West Paterson? Or will it simply remain there, a curiosity of newspaper days gone by?

OK, there's not much to this post. Busy week.


Anonymous said...

You might want to check out this post about a former May Company store, now a poorly named condo development, on the Fritinancy blog:

-- Barbara Phillips Long

Davisull said...

Ah, the May Co. store on the Miracle Mile. A beautiful building, though it loses something without the giant MAY CO letters lining the corner.

After Bullock's built Bullock's Wilshire there was a rush by the downtown L.A. stores to move closer to the affluent west side -- just as had happened in New York with stores moving uptown, but based on car commuting rather than subways.

The Broadway bought the Hollywood store of B.H. Dyas Co.-Ville de Paris, but the big move was when Coulter Dry Goods Co. abandoned downtown L.A. for the building at 5600 Wilshire left adrift by Myer Siegal Co., a woman's clothing store that tried to expand into a full-line department store in the 1930s.

Coulter's was L.A.'s oldest department store and mid-Wilshire and beyond looked very attractive, so in the early 1940s, just before the war would have stopped it, May Co. built the store referred to. Tom May of the St. Louis-based family lived in Beverly Hills and oversaw the company's expansion in the Southland.

Unlike most cities, almost all of L.A.'s historic department store buildings are still there -- Bullock's, Broadway, Robinson's, May Co., Eastern-Columbia, Coulter's, and Bullock's Wilshire and the May Co. store on the Miracle Mile.