OPINION: Fond Memories of Paper Papers

by Walt Amses

Although dismayed by the announcement that the Times Argus and Rutland Herald would cut back production of their paper editions to four a week, (publishing online seven days a week), I realized that I’m a component of this vicious cycle, preferring my information instantaneously like most everyone else.

Coupled with the Hardwick Gazette being up for grabs, available for a 400-word essay and $175 entry fee, the Argus-Herald move toward cyber-news reflects a trend that finds local publications coming to grips with the same dilemma their national counterparts have been facing for several years: The ascendency of the internet as content provider.

Electronic media is facing a similar choice. Reboot or die. When the only thing we learn from the evening news that we didn’t already know is that the side effects of medications often sound worse than whatever they’re designed to cure, viewership will likely decline. And if what TV news provides is essentially history by the time it hits the airwaves, where does that leave print journalism? Unfortunately, the only thing that newspapers have done the past decade at anything other than a comparatively glacial pace is shut down, scaling back working journalists by almost 25 percent since 2001.

Even though I rarely pick up a paper paper anymore, they’ve been an important part of my life and I miss them in the way you miss things dismantled by irrevocable change, even though the change was for the better. Computers seamlessly replaced typewriters but they can’t duplicate the unique chatter of a newsroom approaching deadline — words set to a completely different music.

I’ve always begun reading a tabloid-sized newspaper from back to front, even at the supermarket checkout line when I pick up the National Enquirer to find out where Elvis is hiding (on a tiny island) or how we faked the moon landing (trick photography). I’m always surprised when people notice, but I know exactly what they mean and precisely why I do it.

It stems from an idyllic childhood growing up in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty where our only worries were catching polio; nuclear annihilation; or going straight to hell for a variety of indiscretions, endlessly hyped by pugnacious nuns. My solace in those days came via sacrilegious worship of the New York Yankees and the coverage provided by more than a dozen newspapers — including the ubiquitous Daily News and The Daily Mirror, famous for scathing headlines which I rarely saw.

The Yankees never seemed to let me down and neither did the papers, whose sports section began on the back page, which is where I began my ritual, usually over breakfast, before lurching out into the fetid atmosphere of humid Jersey summers where we somehow managed to play ball all day without adult supervision or organization other than what we provided ourselves.

In addition to reading Dick Young and Joe Trimble, there was usually a cartoon by Bill Gallo and you could always find out that day’s “number” by checking out the last three digits of the total mutual handle at Aqueduct. We were too young to actually place bets even though it was common knowledge which bookies worked which local candy stores and bars, but I knew the number my father played day after day.

Avidly reading the newspaper was nothing compared with total immersion years later as the editor of weekly Air Force newspaper in New Mexico where we wrestled with ancient linotype machines, keyboarding stories into gigantic metal beasts, generating hot, lead “slugs” for each line. Each story was constructed with a series of these lines and eventually locked into a page-sized frame.

After rolling on printer’s ink, covering each page with paper and pounding out the dummies with a wooden block and mallet, we proofread. Typos required plucking the offending line, running back to the linotype and replacing it with a corrected slug. When this paper was finally ready for bed, so were we.

As a college editor, our paper was printed with photo offset, so I didn’t participate in the production end and not being up to my elbows in printer’s ink and hot lead was fine with me. But that initial experience — being with a newspaper from start to finish — doing interviews, taking photographs, writing copy and seeing through the printing and even distribution was invaluable, providing a glimpse of exactly what it took to publish.

And while I’m not happy with the demise of print hitting so close to home, I understand the challenges facing newspapers and I’m glad that The Times Argus is committed to continuing the mission without eliminating staff positions. Given the times we’re in, we need all the journalists we can get.

Walter Amses is a writer and former educator who lives in North Calais.

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