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Op-Ed

Print journalism: Those were the days

November 12, 2021

We reported on papyrus; they ate us with electrons.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

One morning early as I plopped my butt into a chair at the late, lamented daily newspaper where last I toiled in the flesh, the phone rang. I picked it up.

A snarling male voice bellowed: “Who wrote the editorial today?”

“I did.”

“Well, I disagree with it.”

“What did it say?”

“Well, you wrote it!”

He had me there.

I knew that no matter what I said, I would never be able to convince this irate man — our subscriber: our customer — that I did not recall what I had written — same butt in same chair — 24 hours ago.

But I did not remember it. And I wasn’t really old, yet.

Let me tell you what it was like a’way back then, when online news sites were just a gleam in newborn, hungry evil eyes.

Newspapers were “cutting back” — firing people. Not because the people were not good at their jobs, but their jobs had become extraneous.

First to go was the back shop: No need for a paste-up crew with Quark Express. (Which is, or was, a cool program that I loved to work with. But still: There goes the paste-up crew.)

Next went the ad reps. With classified ads moving online, at a fraction of the cost for print, and with income from classified ads reduced by half, then two-thirds and more … there went, eventually, much of the income that paid the dwindling newsroom.

Were I a younger man, who thought that hating would somehow harm what I hated, rather than myself, I would have a special spot of hatred in my heart for MediaNews Group, now owned by bloodsucking semihuman sharks known as Alden Capital.

I could give you a list of once-decent newspapers they’ve ruined, but I’d rather not. I couldn’t afford the legal fees.

So. Now we have a newspaper industry financially crippled by nearly total loss of revenue from classified ads; hollowed-out newsrooms; avarice its guiding darkness: Rupert Murdoch, Alden Capital, facing off against, or with, the avarice and bluster of Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Donald Drumpf.

With stardom for the fandango dancers at Faux News and its impotent spawn: neofascist cutie pies, male and female — wannabe Caligulas — twirling for the cameras, online and in their ghostwritten books, seeking, and getting closer to — Imperium! — and Caligula.

Historians are divided on whether the emperor Caligula (ruled 37-41) actually nominated his horse, Incitatus, to be a consul — the most important office in Rome, after the emperor. Almost surely, Caligula put it around that he was thinking of putting his horse up for election.

The reason he did this was not because Caligula wanted his horse elected: It was to mock and humiliate the Roman Senate for its powerlessness in the face of tyranny.

In the same way, Mitch McConnell, the most powerful politician in the United States today — more powerful than the president — is exerting his power — has exerted, will continue to exert — not for the good of the nation, but to mock and humiliate the president of the United States.

Hard to say whether McConnell or Murdoch is the more loathsome, bloodier toad. Murdoch, owner of the Wall Street Journal, Faux News and other rags, is the Caligula of the news business, employing 28,000 people — give or take a few haunches of meat — and contributing every day to the destruction of the business, established by other people over centuries, that made him a billionaire.

Mitch McConnell? For all his power and wealth, he’s just following orders.

Newspapers, like money, depend(ed) on faith. Not religious faith, but faith that the $20 bill you hand to your grocer is actually worth $20, and will be worth it tomorrow, and, within a few pennies here and there, a year from now. And that the news you read is actually what it claims to be: News: What Happened Yesterday: Not a Cudgel Against Enemies — Real or Imagined.

Murdoch, McConnell, Trump, Alden Capital and their verminous spawn have devoted, are devoting, their lives to devaluing news: telling you that it is false, worth nothing.

Why would they do that, do you suppose?

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