The fading roar of the presses

I have been letting this blog fade rather significantly since my retirement from teaching journalism, but a friend’s post on Facebook about the closing down of the Roanoke Times presses inspired me to write something kind of long for a Facebook post and relevant to the original theme of this blog, so here it is.

The Roanoke Times is now part of the Berkshire Hathaway media chain, and will be printed at another paper in that chain, part of the corporate consolidation of thinner and thinner newspapers with thinner and thinner roots in their local communities. So here is what I had to say about that on Facebook…

“Hot off the presses” can’t mean the same when the presses aren’t in the same city as the name on the front page of that newspaper… and the newspaper as an institution isn’t as great a representative of the community when it doesn’t employ the full range of production people, not just writers and editors and photographers and designers and ad takers, but typesetters and compositors and printers and press operators and forklift drivers (for those big rolls of paper!) and truck drivers and delivery folks, circulation supervisors, what we used to call  paperboys and newsstand operators… the whole crew that used to create a daily miracle in newsprint. See the pressman story that Roanoke Times veteran Beth Macy shares below (https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10155673584327835&id=586837834). 

No amount of corporate public relations staff can replace having dozens of employees who care about their jobs and represent the newspaper in the community.

Times are changing. “Papers” are digital. But it takes a mighty stretch for web comments, Twitter tweets and Facebook page discussions to make your local news organization as much a part of the community as it was when it employed so many people in the community in so many trades. 

I’m thinking of a short-lived Mickey Rooney radio series in which he played an Army vet newspaper-truck driver whose father had been a typesetter, and whose life goal was to be a reporter. For most of the 20th century, you had respect for the newspaper as a local institution, whether you agreed with his editorials or not, because you knew somebody who worked there or whose father or mother or brother or sister worked there. 

(Even if I mostly read its comic strips and a couple of humorous columns, I delivered something called the Daily Hampshire Gazette when I was in junior high school. It’s 630 miles from here and I still follow it on Facebook. It was “my paper” the way the record store that sponsored my bowling team was mine even before I had a stereo of my own.)

Packing up the presses and selling them for scrap or to some distant location where they still put ink on paper is in some ways just a sign of the times, but in other ways a sign of losing a “hot off the presses” community institution and local employer, taking over by a big out-of-town Corporation, cold and distant, not caring in much other than its bottom line.

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.

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