Mourning the morning paper

July 24, 2012

A thin piece of metal smaller than a chocolate bar with my name spelled backwards on one edge was a prized possession when I was a child. Each year, as the winter holidays neared, I would take it to my grandfather’s print shop and select a Christmas card. My grandfather would use this “slug” to print my name on a few cards for me.

I remember that the print shop smelled of grease and metal, paper and ink. It was a noisy place, and the presses looked grimy. How amazing, I thought, that a little piece of metal, some ink and a dirty printing press could create such a beautiful Christmas card. I proudly sent those cards to my elementary-school-age friends every year.

I was born with newspaper ink in my DNA. One grandfather wrote for a newspaper in Colorado. My other grandfather was a newspaper editor in Missouri during World War I. He was the one who later owned the print shop and printed my Christmas cards. It was the only print shop in town that stayed open through the Great Depression, according to my mother.

She worked at her father’s print shop after she graduated from high school and before she married my father in 1941, a time when most women – including my mother — quit their jobs when they married. Had she chosen a career, it would have been in journalism, according to her high-school yearbook.

My first piece of published writing was a neighborhood “newspaper” that she helped me write and produce in the 1960s. The publication wasn’t long lived. We distributed only one issue of the Clubhouse News, but I still have a copy of it.

In my teen years, I wrote only bad poetry about heartbreak and the angst of surviving high school. But when I went to college, I got a job on the staff of the student newspaper, the Crimson White, and it was there I learned about the marvels of offset printing, which marked the end of dirty printing presses that left ink on your skin, your clothes and your shoes.  The smells of ink and paper, however, remained until printing went digital some years later.

After college, I went to the dark side — public relations — but I still consider myself a writer at heart. I have retained my appreciation of journalists and journalism to this day. I subscribe to the Birmingham News, read it every day and will continue to read it daily until the end of the summer, when the only remaining daily newspaper in this metropolitan area of more than a million people will start publishing only three days a week.

I knew the transition from print journalism to online journalism was coming. I studied it in college and had read about it for decades. But to get up one morning and find out that the only daily newspaper left in town was reducing its publication frequency to three days a week? It was quite a shock. And I’m not over it yet.

To me, this change marks the death of real journalism, a death I will mourn daily. If my grandfather could write an editorial about it from his grave, I know he would. But he can’t, so I guess this will have to do.


2 Responses to “Mourning the morning paper”

  1. Charlotte bowman Says:

    Omg! I have known you all these years and never knew this piece of your history


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