Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Third Floor, News

"Irony" is, like "hopefully," one of the most "misused" words in the language -- and largely for the same reason, that it easily fills a linguistic hole, having come to mean "isn't it interestingly peculiar and perhaps ordered by fate" rather that simply "isn't it the opposite of what I just said." Personally I feel that both of them have come to these meanings through the need for a secular word like "inshallah" -- God willing, even if he doesn't really will it. In any event, it is personally ironic in the new sense that my employer announced Monday that it would be moving from the building built for it in the 1920s to the building built for the department store Strawbridge & Clothier in the 1930s. I assume this means I will close out my journalistic career working in a department store, although whether that happens when I want it to or when circumstances occasion it is, well, inshallah.

We'll be on the third floor -- not just our newsroom, but one newsroom for both papers plus the website, and people from other departments there as well. The payoff for us and the city is apparently a desire to turn the current semi-dead zone on Market Street  between Sixth and 12th Streets -- there are lots of stores, but not the sort to appeal to conventioneers or 21st-century yuppies -- into a brightly lit and happening place. Inshallah. Part of that will be video screens displaying the news from Philly.com. Perhaps it will be called Inquirer Square, but it is more likely to be Philly.com Square if it comes to that.

According to BAK's Department Store Museum, a wonderful site for photos, logos and store directories, the third floor of Strawbridge & Clothier in an era many of us would remember was: Pickwick dresses and coats, misses' dresses and sportswear, Today's Woman, contemporary dresses and sportswear, New Editions, Trend Shop, Country Club sportswear, Devon Shop, Philadelphia Shop, furs, bridal salon, millinery, and Junior World. In other words, the province of middle, upper middle, and lower upper class women.  I guess I'd rather be there than in toys and hardware, which seems more like us but was on eight -- that's right, you went to the eighth floor of a department store to buy paint, and then carried it on the elevator or down seven escalators, past notions and jewelry and out to get on the subway or to your car in a nearby garage. Just unimaginable today, and just normal back then. I wonder if they sold ladders.

Certainly I will mourn leaving our building. I remember coming for my tryout in June 1983, taking a walk on Sunday, turning onto Broad Street, seeing the Ivory Tower of Truth, and thinking, wow, if I get hired here, I have made the big time. Most newspapers are diving out of their buildings as fast as they can, whether old ones as in Worcester or new ones as in Iowa City, because they were built with now-unneeded pressrooms and mailrooms to stuff thousands of copies of papers thick with now-lost classified advertising with now-nonexistent inserts, and had room for lots of classified ad takers to answer the phone taking those now-lost ads, and room for prepress operations to prepare ads that now come in as PDFs, and at lots of papers, alas, room for now-laid-off copy desks to prepare the next day's paper, city by city. You can stick most newspapers' local operations in a small corner of an office park now,  so it's at least nice that we still need 125,000 feet plus people working at the printing plant and at our South Jersey office.

It wasn't the Internet era that caused the New York Daily News to leave the beautiful building built for it on East 42nd Street, or the Cincinnati Enquirer to depart 617 Vine (which was kind of a dump at the end) for a downtown office building. With satellite printing plants, the space they had and the way it was configured was unworkable. In some ways we should have left 400 N. Broad years ago, after we moved the pressroom out to Upper Merion, but times were good enough (and our neighborhood was just marginal enough) that we could afford for years to have large parts of the building sit idle -- a waste of space, particularly before we spun off half the building to the school district. The Internet era has pulled the Atlanta Journal-Constitution out of downtown and the Bergen Record from its Hackensack office overlooking the Manhattan skyline. The Miami Herald will lose its beautiful view overlooking Biscayne Bay soon, and the Seattle Times will move a block away to an office building it already owns  The sale of these iconic buildings will allow the newspapers' owners to pay off some debt, which is a good thing, as they can't raise the money from nonexistent classified. As various churches try to tell us, a building is just a building and not really the church. But parishioners often have a hard time with that. If a building is beautiful or holds memories, while it may not be meaningful or affordable anymore to the organization that owns it, it may be priceless to those who gather there.

I've watched a TV pilot and a movie be filmed at 400 N. Broad. I had the composing room prepare a fake front page as my son's birth announcement. I remember how important I felt the first time I was invited to a meeting on the 12th floor, where the Knight Ridder board met when it was in town. I recall walking past the loading docks under the building and seeing a man who had been stabbed lying there. Those things will become just memories, and at least I also have memories of shopping at Strawbridge & Clothier, although not on the third floor. My mother recently said, it's not that things are changing, things always change, it's that everything now changes, and so fast. But perhaps that has always been part of getting older. So we will move to Eighth and Market, and we will try to keep ourselves going, one hopes with print still being a big part of that, inshallah. Last week when the Penn State board announced at 10:15 p.m. that Joe Paterno was fired, we had to make over story after story, headline after headline, in 75 minutes to reflect the news. It was working to put out a newspaper, and yes, even today, how sweet it is to do so.

1 comment:

Scoats said...

I hope it all works out.

The history there was/is really amazingly cool and romantic, but now it might merely be baggage. Maybe not having all that history around will allow the company to find its place in the present and future.

The opportunity is not yet all lost with Philly.com. I really hope you folks can make it a site that is essential to people's daily lives, just how the paper used to be.