Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Washington Post's Joel Achenbach writes (another) obituary for newspapers

Miami News, Dec. 31, 1988.
The Washington Post's Joel Achenbach posted some thoughts today on his blog about that "17-year-old kid who sold a $30 million [news] app, called Summly, to Yahoo."

"The app," Achenbach writes, "boils down news stories to 400-character summaries."

Achenbach began his post by talking about why he prefers print over "news apps."

I like the bandwidth of print, and the way a broadsheet paper can organize the world into manageable sections. When I scan the front page I download, instantly, and not entirely consciously, the collective judgment of the editors at the A1 meeting, and although some fundamentalists may object to the notion of filtered information I consider the filtering to be an added value. I don’t want raw data. I don’t want transcripts. I want information that’s already made it through some winnowing processes. I want a veteran reporter’s judgment to shape the story I read about the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on gay marriage, for example. Later, in theory, I could go online to C-Span and hear the event unedited — if I had time. Another thing I like about a newspaper is how easy it is to dig quickly and deeply into the weather report or the sports scores, without having to wait for the page to “load.” Print just feels faster to me.

Achenbach - a former Miami Herald staffer - ended his post with this: "It’s important to remember that revolutionary changes in the news business have been going on for a long time. Yesterday I looked at a story I did in January 1989 for Tropic magazine (Miami Herald) about the closing of the Miami News. That was before the Internet. The closing of a paper is a terrible thing. Who keeps the archives, I wonder, of the News, Miami’s oldest paper? Did any of those old articles ever migrate to the Internet in some fashion?"

I like newspapers when they tell me things I don't know. But when I can tell a newspaper reporter something he - or she - doesn't know, then that's good, too. We both win.

So when Achenbach asked, "Who keeps the archives, I wonder, of the News, Miami’s oldest paper?" And, "Did any of those old articles ever migrate to the Internet in some fashion?", I was more than happy to point out in the comments section of his post that the Miami News archives do indeed, still exist on the Internet.

Achenbach wrapped things up by posting six paragraphs from his 1989 Tropic piece. Achenbach writes that "It was quite an ordeal to get it in [Tropic], as the executives upstairs at Knight Ridder were not happy with our decision to write about their closing of the News. But of course that was 24 years ago. So, you know, who cares?"

I remember reading his piece when it was published. I was curious to see how it would read almost a quarter-century later, so I looked it up.

Here's a bit more of Achenbach's 1989 Tropic story:
The final day should have been a time to stand back and recount the lore of Miami's oldest newspaper, the sediment of 92 years of journalism and five Pulitzer Prizes. It was an institution that covered, created and preserved the local history, having predated by two months the official founding of Miami. This was the paper that in the '30s tried to run Al Capone out of town, that in the '40s helped shut down the S&G crime syndicate, that in the '50s pushed early for civil rights and exposed migrant labor horrors, that in the '60s broke the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis and criticized the Vietnam War at a time when few others dared speak so harshly. It was once known as the best second paper in the country, a writer's paper that threw the Five W's out the window and tried to be fun and smart. It was one of the few liberal papers in the South, with nothing to be ashamed of except perhaps a brief stretch in the '70s when the screaming street edition ran headlines like How I Met My Animal Lover and Starving Mothers Eat Babies and Pope: I Am Not Gay.

A few times in recent weeks Kleinberg and Keasler and Don Wright, the editorial cartoonist who started as a copy boy in the early 1950s, paused to pitch a little lore. Keasler arrived at The News 30 years ago on a Monday. That Wednesday, there was a rumor that the paper would fold. "Sure enough, 30 years later, it did," Keasler says.

Back then there was a poker game every day in the photography lab, lasting hours into the night. You could also gamble at darts, or play chess. No one wore a tie and the copy editors had green eyeshades. When The News staffers moved to the Herald building in 1966 they thought it hysterical that The Herald employed security guards. How pompous. There were always pranks: One time the sports editor came back from vacation and found his office filled with an inflated 12-foot weather balloon; Kleinberg had a portable outhouse delivered and placed on the publisher's manicured lawn; on Kleinberg's 25th anniversary the staff put out the edition a little early and fled, so that when Kleinberg came back from lunch the newsroom was utterly vacant. He said he thought he had died and gone to hell.

-Joel Achenbach on the death of the Miami News - Tropic Magazine, Jan. 29, 1989.

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