Thursday, January 20, 2011

Department Store Building of the ... Golden Triangle (2)

I couldn't get a good screen shot of the former Gimbel Brothers store in downtown Pittsburgh, and this shot of the Joseph Horne Co. store is not all that satisfactory. Horne's in the 1960s had among the most stylish ads in the country, and part of that was that the store name was placed almost as an afterthought: instead of dominating the ad -- the dress or coat or table and the copy would be used surrounded by white space, and down in a corner would appear in sans-serif type, not very large, as if "it would be in poor taste to draw attention to ourselves," a simple


Downtown Pittsburgh is oddly sited, and it was always hard for me to understand how it developed with Horne's at 501 Penn Avenue blocks away from Gimbels and Kaufmann's on Smithfield Street. The answer is in Pittsburgh's peculiar geography and where the stores drew their trade from. Unless you're from Pittsburgh or have a map this will probably make no sense, but: downtown Pittsburgh was originally centered on Market Square, at Diamond Street (now Forbes Avenue) and Market Street. Stores spread up and down Market, and then onto Fifth Avenue a half-block north as well as Diamond. Kaufmann's was originally a South Side store, serving the working class, and the Smithfield Street bridge was a main entrance to downtown from the South Side, so when Kaufmann's came downtown it built on Smithfield where it encountered downtown traffic reaching out along Diamond (Forbes) and Fifth.

Horne's, however, was the carriage-trade store, and in the late 19th century much of the carriage trade -- not the super-rich, who lived out past East Liberty, but the upper middle class -- lived on the North Side, in what then was the separate suburb of Allegheny. Allegheny had its own department stores -- one, Boggs & Buhl Co., lasted into the 1950s -- along its main street, Federal Street, which when it crossed the Allegheny River entered Pittsburgh as Sixth Street and eventually turned into Market.  Horne's started out near Sixth Street on Penn, and then moved a block west. Eventually, Market Square, which had been the center of downtown Pittsburgh, lost its prominence. The railroad that ran down Liberty Street and other commuting trails also enter into this, but the strange disconnectedness of Pittsburgh's major department stores in the 1960s came from their placement to dominate the streetcar lines coming across the bridges from very different parts of town.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Bit Less Sun in Naperville

The Sun-Times Media Group -- probably America's most buffeted newspaper chain -- announced last week that its papers in Aurora and Joliet, Ill., would go from seven to six days, and that the Naperville Sun would return to three after a few years as a daily. Those who see the end of newspapers can of course see this as another nail in the coffin. But don't overread it.

Naperville -- a booming and affluent Chicago suburb -- had its paper taken daily right before the Newspaper Holocaust and the economic crash. In good times, publishers have always seen money going to their metropolitan competitors, and tried to lure it away with a new daily. Sometimes they succeed. Often they do not. In the 1920s boom, dailies were started on Philadelphia's Main Line and in the Oranges outside Newark. The 1930s sent them back to weekly status.

A paper in Mount Kisco, N.Y., was cranked up to daily status in the 1970s and cranked back in about a year. The same happened recently in Plainfield, Ind. In the 1960s there were briefly dailies in Garden Grove and Huntington Beach, Calif. There were two attempts in Castle Rock, outside Denver. A publisher finds out pretty quickly whether there's a market for daily readership and whether she can lure ads away from competitors. So the change in Naperville doesn't mean much except to quote from the Chicago Tribune's article:

"These moves are driven by reasons related to economics and efficiencies, (chief executive Jeremy) Halbreich said. But he also said that, in Naperville, the company had received comments from local officials, readers and advertisers favoring a return to a three-day schedule for the Sun."

And that's also often the case. You might think that local officials would love having their name in the paper every day. But readers (and officials) who aren't total news junkies may find it easier to just catch up with what's happening a couple of times a week, instead of having to pay attention every day. Plus, readers of small-town papers often like the "villagey" feeling of a less-than-daily. People live in places like Naperville because they don't want to live in Chicago. They may not want it to feel more urban -- with a daily newspaper and all. It's not news that's going to be on the local television.

With two or three times a week, they can "catch up" on all the local news without having to look for it every day. It's a lot easier to get the big national and foreign stories online than it is most local news -- there are so many sources. Take that away need away from dailies and increasing numbers of print readers may say, sure, I want a print paper -- just a couple times a week.

The other advantage is that a daily schedule makes people think they "have" to read it that day or it's obsolete. My wife will let our three dailies pile up on the counter, and then read three days' worth on the weekends. But I'd say most people's feeling is, "God, here's another one and I didn't even get to yesterday's! Now I've got to throw that old one out unread!" You don't, but with a couple of days between publication, you have more time to get to it. In the 1980s people told us that they felt oppressed by unread newspapers. We told them they should rearrange their lives to have more time to read us. They didn't. This may be the compromise.

As for the Saturday cuts in the other two papers, while those are clearly economic, it's important to remember that many newspapers were not seven days until the classified-and-insert boom started in the 1970s, and the majority of papers never were (despite our beliefs, readers of most newspapers have always been willing to go a day or two without a paper). In 1966, Illinois had (I might be off by one in any category) 14 seven-day papers, 60 six-day papers, and 7 five-day papers. In 1997, it had 25 seven-day papers, 30 six-day papers, and 13 five-day papers. (Yes, this is Before the Internet, a drop from 81 to 68 daily papers. It's always been about television.) In 1966, 74 percent of dailies came out on six days and 17 percent seven; in 1996, 44 percent were six days and another 44 percent were seven. Now Aurora and Joliet were in the seven-day category until now, and in 1966 some of the six-day papers were part of morning/evening combos with one Sunday paper, and some people bought their local daily and then the Chicago Tribune on Sunday. But it's so much easier to staff a six-day operation and then put more strength into the Sunday paper instead of frittering it away on a largely unread Saturday, as long as you post Friday-night high school sports online.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Department Store Building of the ... Golden Triangle (1)

I prefer to post about obscure stores in smaller cities, but my wife's cousin Larry Stratton, visiting Stover Constitution fellow at Waynesburg College, told me about a recent visit to the Macy's in downtown Pittsburgh, he having just moved to Western Pennsylvania. Before the Great Macyization, of course, this was Kaufmann's Department Store, Fifth Avenue at Smithfield Street, one of America's largest department stores.

Kaufmann's is probably more known for the architectural leadership of Edgar J. Kaufmann, who hired Frank Lloyd Wright for Fallingwater and Richard Neutra for his summer house in Palm Springs, and his son Edgar Jr. In "Merchant Princes," one of the essential department store books, Leon Harris makes clear that Edgar J. was a man much like John F. Kennedy -- terribly handsome, incredibly charming, a connoisseur of the finer things, and randy as a rabbit.

Edgar Kaufmann took control of the family store through both force of personality and marrying his first cousin. This did not sit well with all the Kaufmanns, though. Two, Ludwig and Theodore, decamped to start Kaufmann & Baer Company a block away, which in the mid-1920s was sold to Gimbel Brothers. The Gimbels liked the Kaufmanns, making one manager of their Philadelphia store and keeping another involved in Pittsburgh, but it appears they did not like Ludwig, who went over to Penn Avenue, near Horne's, and opened the Kaufmann-Looby Company.

The vice president of this was Frances Looby, who may have been the Philadelphia woman whose case against her bigamist artist husband drew attention two decades earlier. Frances Looby had been a buyer for Kaufmann & Baer, but nothing seems to indicate that Ludwig's tastes were as wide-ranging as Edgar's.

In an earlier post I wrongly stated that Kaufmann-Looby was sold to Gimbels instead of Kaufmann & Baer. Also, earlier I stated that the Bon-Ton in Lebanon, Pa., seemed to have no connection to the Bon-Ton chain out of York, Pa. Corporately, that is correct; the Lebanon store, formally known as Louis Samler Inc., had no connection to S. Grumbacher & Sons, the York firm. The Lebanon Bon-Ton passed into the hands of Allied Stores very early; the Grumbachers have the Bon-Ton stores even today. And at the time I thought it was so.

But a story published in 2010 in the Lebanon Daily News makes the connection: Samler's wife was a Grumbacher. Still to be determined by me is whether Samler invented the Bon-Ton name, or Max Grumbacher -- or had the father, Samuel Grumbacher, used it in his store in Trenton, N.J.? Anyone know?

Monday, January 10, 2011

What is the Objective?

Objectivity, that favored newspaper theme, has been taking hit after hit. It was surprising to me when Rem Rieder of American Journalism Review sort of joined in, in his column in the Winter issue.

Rieder quotes Peter Goodman, now of the Huffington Post, saying, "It's sort of the age of the columnist... old conventional notions of fairness make it hard to tell readers directly what's going on."

No offense to Goodman, but -- think about that for a moment. (And forget that for years, a large number of reporters have always felt, "I really should be a columnist.")

Rieder continues: "There has been something downright liberating about the emergence of so much lively, engaging, freewheeling writing. It makes the traditional straightforward story seem awfully vanilla... In the face of a Wild West world where so many outlandish charges, many of them based on absolutely nothing, are cavalierly tossed around, the old he-said, she-said approach seems bankrupt. If you are giving equal weight to truth and nonsense, you really are in the stenography business."

No offense to Rieder, but -- think about that for a moment as well.

We used to be in the "first rough draft of history" business. Now we're to be in the "we know the truth" business? Yet tons of our former readers say they've been tired of us lecturing to them what the truth is.

Rieder takes great pains to note that a news organization should not become partisan -- as Fox and MSNBC have become. But I read his use of "partisan" as meaning only identification with a political party rather than identification with a core set of beliefs, the "faction, cause, or person" of the Merriam-Webster definition, though I may well be wrong. In that sense, is there a nonpartisan truth these days? We used to think of science as nonpartisan, but global warming is partisan. Stem-cell research is partisan. Exactly how do journalists say, "This is truth and this is nonsense," when there is no societal agreement that there even is "truth" -- that some feel truth is relative and others feel truth is unchangeable? I may believe my opinion is right, but does that make it true?

OK, so this is just going back to journalism of the 18th and 19th centuries, and it makes life a lot harder for copy editors, which may be why they are in less demand. OK, it's more fun to write -- we all did it in high school, when we knew we knew the truth and the assistant principal was just a bluenose hypocrite. OK, there's no market for old-style objectivity these days. And Rieder closes by saying, "A news organization that wants a large, general audience has to steer clear of the partisanship trap. It has to ... be willing to call out those who are playing fast and loose with the facts. But it has to hold everyone and every position to the same standard." True enough, but again:

If climatologists generally agree that human-caused global warming is real and a large group of meteorologists believes that it's merely a historical fluctuation and a large group of conservatives believe that even if the climate is warming, it's just being used as a club by people who believe everyone should drive Smart cars and live in houses the size of nine tatami mats -- how do I, as the journalist, determine truth?

If I hold everyone to the same standard, no one is going to agree with me on what that standard means. So I'm left with what I believe, which if I'm a good journalist is based not just on my own prejudices but on research, interviews, and fair play -- but if I believe it's important for America to have vital urban centers and not just be a nation of suburbs, even if I accurately present the views of Joel Kotkin, I'll figure Richard Florida's interpretation is the truth. He'll get the summing-up graf at the end of my story, and Kotkin will fall into the "some disagree" section of the story. But are either of them really true? This is why journalists fall back on hypocrisy so often. We don't really know what's true, but we do know when X contradicts Y.

We all start with what we believe. We tell readers what's going on based on what we think is going on as balanced with what we are told is going on. It was easy to objectively report in the old days on break-ins and car crashes. Whether they constitute a trend or a crime spree is probably not objective and never was, but we all trusted authority a lot more back then when they said it was. (Now, we'd simply assume they were looking for clips to accompany a request for additional federal funds to combat the crime spree.) Journalists aren't omniscient. So how in the end does John Q. Journalist differ from Hannity or Olbermann? Unless they've become simply entertainers, those guys also want to tell people what they think is going on, truth instead of nonsense. You can't go down this road without being on the same road, unless you simply assume that everyone who thinks differently than you is simply a windbag propagandist peddling things they know aren't true. And then, you have taken fairness out of your quiver as well.

I'm not sure there ever was "objectivity" -- there's nothing new about that thought, of course. What there was was, at some point, a sense that trustworthy authority could settle it, a real meaning to "officials and experts agree." Journalism was once part of that authority. And isn't that what the tea partiers look for in the Constitution, and that the Christian right looks for in the Bible -- an answer that can be said to be ultimately true? So yes, Rem, objectivity is probably dead and journalists have to take another road. But we can't call it "truth" without walking into the traps our opponents lay. Maybe it's just "what we think is right."

Monday, January 3, 2011

When 10 is Really 13

December was stressful enough without blogging, tweeting, facebooking -- but again back to business.

One of my three local papers, in its Entertainment tab for the New Year's weekend, picked up a USA Today story on the 10 best movies of the year. As it ran in USA, critic Claudia Puig also included three honorable mentions, running them under the subhead "Noteworthy runners-up."

Fine and dandy, except by the time it was moved into the local paper's entertainment section, the "Runners-up" line had disappeared. So the headline said "10 best movies," the lead said "10 best movies," and there were 13 best movies with no clear explanation.

Honestly, we expect people to pay for this? As Frank Drebin might say, trust us, we know what we're doing?

The thing is, you can't blame this on the collapse of copy editing in the last few years. For most of the time I have lived in South Jersey, the other local paper had a policy of knocking datelines off the "people in the news" items -- but then either no one thought to, or thought they had time to, write the location back into the text, so items would always say "here" and you had no idea where "here" was.

I find it amusing when newspapers write about how they're going to make all these cutbacks but "the really big stories, the projects and major investigations, will still get multiple layers of editing." That's great, but that's not what readers read every day. It reflects the newspaper's sense of what it considers important, but doesn't speak to the reader's experience of the newspaper. A reader may not know firsthand anything that contradicts your six-months-in-the-making, four-part series. The reader knows that 10 best movies should have 10 items. And this has nothing to do with print -- stupidity on any platform is stupidity.

Mistakes will happen, and this is just a mistake. But newspapers are not going to succeed any better on iPads if they continue to take the approach that their job is to present professionally to the reader the one or two things they really cared about that day, and then a bunch of stuff to fill up the space. There needs to be a culture of "we care about what we do," not a culture of "we care about what we care about."