Friday, August 09, 2013

On the death of a newspaper and why I don't subscribe to the Commercial Appeal

Not to toot my own horn, but I have been able to read since the age of 3.  And the first things that I read were newspapers.  Growing up 100 miles from Chicago, I read the Dixon Telegraph, the Rockford Morning Star and Chicago's American at my house.  My grandparents took the Dixon paper, the Chicago Tribune (presumably avoiding the editorial section) and the greatest paper I ever read, the Chicago Daily News, where as a 7-year-old I first read the great Mike Royko.

Twenty years ago, when out-of-town Sunday papers were sent to Memphis, I would frequent World News downtown or Tobacco Corner Newsroom out east to find the papers I wanted, sometimes spending as much as $20 on a Sunday to get those HUGE papers to spend the day with.  So, I love great newspapers.

While it may not have been great, the Nashville City Paper had great moments and good writers, at least one I know personally, and that is why I mourn its passing.  Its last issue was printed and hit the streets today, and they went out with a wonderful editorial about how Nashville needs newspapers.  They will be deeply missed.

Since Craigslist sucked all the money out of the classified ads with free online classifieds and with so much of our news coming online, it has become nearly impossible to make ANY profit with a newspaper, much less the unreasonable profit margins demanded by the demons of Wall Street.  Somehow the Daily News and the weekly Memphis Flyer stay above water and produce good journalism for our city and region.

Which brings me to the major daily for the city (but no longer for the region; Scripps abdicated their coverage of regional events long ago), the Commercial Appeal.  When we moved to Memphis 41 years ago, my folks took the Press-Scimitar, the afternoon daily, instead of the morning CA.  When the P-S met the fate of all afternoon papers (at least 15 years pre-Internet) and closed in 1983, my dad reluctantly subscribed to the Commercial Appeal.  Other than carrying Mike Royko, there really was not much to it, except for the ace political reporter, Terry Keeter, who knew where the bodies WEREN'T buried.

Until the bottom fell out, the CA has been the cash cow for Scripps and they meant to keep it that way (Google Chris Davis' stellar coverage of the CA-Newspaper Guild battles at the Flyer that decimated the Guild).  Frankly, other than Wendi Thomas (who has even seen her columns cut back in the last few months) and Geoff Calkins (the best sportswriter in the country, day in and day out, IMO), there's no real reason to give my money to Scripps for less value every day.

Reading the City Paper editorial, I was about to give in and subscribe to the CA so as to support our major daily paper.  Then I heard about something that was, frankly, the last straw.  Over a year ago, I believe, the wonderful cartoonist for the CA, Bill Day, who was afraid of nothing and no one with his fearless cartoons, was released from the CA, ostensibly in a cost-cutting move.  Other papers have done the same thing around the country, choosing instead to get a cheaper syndicated cartoonist.

The final nail in the coffin was, for me, hearing that this week they hired a cartoonist from South Carolina to be the regular cartoonist.  Does this person know the area?  Will he be fair and straight across the board, as Bill Day was?  Why not just bring back Day, if Day wanted?

My own suspicions are that Day's cartoons aggravated the conservatives in the suburbs, whom CA management have desperately sought to appease and keep as subscribers, despite the fact that they do not make up a majority of the city or county.

I love newspapers, but I want value for my money.  If I lived in Little Rock, I would take the Democrat-Gazette, horrid editorial and op-ed pages and all, because Walter Hussmann is committed to news coverage and staffing his newsroom.  They still cover the state of Arkansas, because it is their mission.

I feel bad for the reporters at the CA, because, as the City Paper noted, you don't do more with less, you do LESS with less,.  Sadly, less is all that Scripps management wants to give this city, and I refuse to pay for it.


steve hellar said...

Newspaper performs major role in the employee onboarding process
new hire staffing

MemphisPI said...

Cracker if you still subscribed to the CA you would have enjoyed this week's Doonesbury it relates to your post. Your complaints are valid but to stay informed I read it

You got it right about "ace political reporter, Terry Keeter", proud to say I knew him. To paraphrase the local plaintiff11 attorneys ad when it came to investigative report Keeter was "one call that is all"!