Deaths of Newspapers
Best of Breslin: End of a Newspaper Era
Jimmy Breslin was furious over the merger of three venerable New York newspapers because he knew, rightly, that the reporters and editors—those who actually wrote about the news—would suffer the most.
Next Monday three newspapers in New York are going to merge into one company that will put out a morning, evening, and Sunday newspaper. All this week the most important people in the newspaper industry have been squabbling and negotiating over this merger.
The greats of metropolitan journalism have stepped up to take command. First, there is Bertram Powers. He is the great tastemaker in this city. He is the head of the printers’ union, and they are the people who have taught New York how to read misspelled words. Powers himself has great creative talent. Cleaning women fight for the doodles of letterheads he leaves on conference-room floors.
Then there is Joseph Baer. He is in charge of the union whose members are the people who drive the trucks that the papers are in. And Joseph Laura, who is the head of the union that wraps the newspapers into bundles to be put on the trucks. These two are acknowledged greats in the communications industry and everybody says you must settle with them first before there are any newspapers, merged, unmerged, emerged, or submerged.
And, too, there is Thomas Murphy. He is the power in charge of the Newspaper Guild. This is a union of elevator operators and accountants which has been kind enough to allow in it a small group of workers who are called reporters and rewrite men and copy editors. These people are only about 30 per cent of the Newspaper Guild and all they do on a newspaper is write what the people read and this is not important at all. They do not fit so well into this Newspaper Guild, so nobody really is worrying about them this week.
You see, the head of the Newspaper Guild, Mr. Murphy, is an ex-bookkeeper. Newspapermen traditionally say the bookkeeper is a two-dollar bum who should be mangled. There also is well-documented evidence that bookkeepers do not know how to make capital letters. But since the newspapermen are only a small item this week, the man trying to govern decisions as to which newspapermen stay and which ones lose jobs in the merger is a bookkeeper.
Which is all right in the end, because the newspapermen had too many worries of their own yesterday to interfere with the greats of journalism above them. The worrying all started when somebody in one City Room dug through records and came up with the fact that no newspapermen will have to go to jail next week because there are no debtor’s prisons in this area any more.
To the newspapermen I know in New York, this came as bad news. Most of my people, if they are out of work next week because of the merger, would rather be in jail for non-payment of some simple commercial debt than walking around on the sidewalk where we could be targets for the shylock to drive up on the sidewalk and run us over with his Cadillac.
You see, the newspaper people I know may write about crime or politics, but their real knowledge is in deficit financing. And in true deficit financing there is great danger.
“When I see you, I am going to run the car over you two times, one time forward and one time backward,” his personal shylock warned my friend Sam the Rewrite Man late yesterday.
“I’ll see you next week,” Sam the Rewrite Man told him. “Next week?” the shylock yelled. “Next week my friend rented your newspaper office to put a dress factory into it.”
“We are calling in your loan today,” Mr. Peters from the loan company told me yesterday. “If you had a steady job in taxicabs we would deal to you. But you are a newspaperman. Pay the balance by Friday or we will take the couch out of your living room.”
This, then, is what has kept New York newspapermen busy this week while the powers of journalism settled the big merger. You could see, just by reading newspaper accounts of the merger, who the big shots are in the Fourth Estate in this city. You read one that says: Bertram Powers says the new merged paper cannot come out because it takes a very long time for him to show his printers how to get to work. And: Thomas Murphy, head of the Newspaper Guild, will not allow the new papers to have separate staffs because then he would have to make out two sets of books to keep their names in.
Nowhere was there a headline which said, “Sam the Rewrite Man Gives Go Ahead to Publishers.” Which is the way it should be. Only in those old trench-coat movies do they make newspapermen important on newspapers.