Disappearing newspapers and history — casualties of time

My history is disappearing. This certainly isn’t new, but there’s not much comfort in that  familiarity. It happens to us all. That is the essence of time. Time is the original son of a bitch.

Old schools give way to new ones. Buildings that were once landmarks are toppled to make way for new structures. Forests are transformed into parking lots, strip malls, fast food eateries or storage facilities. I think about old baseball ballparks like Sportsman’s Park, Crosley Field, Shibe Park, Forbes Field — all disappeared in the ’60s and ’70s  from St. Louis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Each one was replaced by incredibly sterile multi-purpose or domed edifices with fake grass —  godawful structures that were themselves ultimately replaced by new ballparks built to look like the old stadiums planners demolished decades before.

They call it progress.

Yes, sometimes it’s better stuff. I won’t deny it. Technology improves, things become run down. Changes need to be made to accommodate new ideas or cut costs. Structures need to be renovated or replaced to create more space. The church where I got married in 1997 is no longer there, they built a much larger one a mile or so away.

Evolution is the bastard child of time, the original son of a bitch.

Because I’m 57 years old and have a fairly proficient memory, I’ve monitored this over the years. Fact is, I’m often astonished at how quickly people forget. On the other hand, we become nostalgic for the damnedest things. The other day I bought the soundtrack for the 1980s movie “Repo Man” on iTunes, just to be reminded of what I was like back then.

Pretty terrifying.

Lately the parts of my past that seem to be disappearing are related to my longtime work in journalism, particularly newspapers. My first newspaper story was published in a local weekly when I was about 12 years old. The Danbury Reporter was situated in the middle of my small hometown in Stokes County, a place that was and still is the county seat – home of government operations. Everybody called the building “The Printin’ Office.” The newspaper logo was in an old English font and a sign out front reflected it. I also worked there summers in high school at everything from reporting to circulation and ad paste-up.

Blog printing office 1

The old ‘printin’ office in Danbury, one-time home of my first journalism job at the Danbury Reporter, still stands, but today it’s a diner. A former owner did nod to its former use in one incarnation of this as a restaurant site, below, but now it has a different name.

blog printing office 2Today the Danbury Reporter no longer exists under that name and is no longer in Danbury at all. The “Printin’ Office” is now a diner that sells pizzas, too. The newspaper is called the Stokes News these days, merged with the King Times News. I’m not even sure where its base of operations is anymore.

So my first work place vanished a long time ago. Thursday I found out my second newspaper stop doesn’t exist anymore either. The Reidsville Review, my first job after graduating from college, has merged with two other newspapers – the Madison Messenger and Eden News – to form something called RockinghamNow, an agitating print designation since, you know, those are actually two words and should really be Rockingham Now. In the digital world that’s small potatoes, though and that’s where this is all headed anyway – part of a necessary evolution for a business model that has been going on for more than a decade. My hunch is it’s not moving fast enough.

The old Review office where I worked for Jerry Moore, my previous boss at the Danbury Reporter, and with a great group of now longtime friends such as Steve “Shag” Williams, Ted Nelson, Fletcher Waynick and Preston Trigg, was vacated years ago. That office was in a strip shopping center next to a grocery store and behind a Wachovia bank branch in Reidsville. Eventually it moved out to Freeway Drive. Now there is no Review. There’s also no Messenger – where my beer-quaffing buddy and multi-time colleague Steve Huffman once worked as did my friend Jennie Lambert, who eventually headed North Carolina’s Freedom Communications newspapers when I worked for that company. Poof, the Eden News is gone, too.

I found out through Ted, an Alamance County native who has worked in radio and newspapers. He was reporter at the Review when we met and eventually became managing editor there before escaping the business. He posted this on his Facebook page.

In my column, as managing editor during publication of the 100th anniversary edition of The Reidsville Review daily, I predicted that in the next 100 years the newspaper would still be around, but it would not be a paper edition – just online. It has had an online edition for some time now, but today it officially combined the print edition with The Eden News and Madison Messenger. They had become mostly the same thing anyway. Now the name of the combined print edition and the online edition is, RockinghamNow.

I have long thought the papers should be officially combined. It just seems sad that the name does not have “Review,” “News,” or “Messenger” as part of the flag at the top of the front page. I know the Review News Messenger sounds a little strange. “Rockingham” works for a combined newspaper for Rockingham County. I just wish they had gone with, The Rockingham Review. Anyway, after 129 years, these three newspapers are now officially mixed as one with a new name. This is history and time marches on. And we are rapidly reaching the historic date when, as I predicted in my column in 1988, there will not be any more print edition, only online. This is “progress,” but it has an element of sadness.

Ted’s prediction is pretty similar to my own and that of others who were once in the newspaper business and began to see the typewriter ribbon ink smeared on the wall years ago. The digital transformation was inevitable but most executives in the industry bogged the process down in quicksand and even now are eliminating content providers as cost-cutting measures. Cutting those who produce news, investigative pieces, features, commentary, photos, videos and interactive features isn’t the way to attract and keep a digital audience. They’re only making that option less attractive while eliminating the need for a print product by overcharging, deadlines that are too early and customer service that slips daily.

When I worked at the Reidsville Review it was a five-day a week publication. At some point it added a Sunday paper in conjunction with the Eden News. Today RockinghamNow publishes for print on Wednesday and Sunday only. It places news daily on its website – ultimately it will be all digital with no print component at all. It’s under the management of the Greensboro News & Record with press operations at the Winston-Salem Journal. This, also, is where other dailies are headed — printing off-site.

In a weird quirk, when Ted and I worked at the Review in around 1982-83, the News & Record in Greensboro had what were called “zoned” publications. It had a different one for bordering counties. As I recall all had a similar heading – Leader. There was the Rockingham Leader, the Randolph Leader, the Alamance Leader, etc. Every single county had a Leader office tied to the News & Record and a staff of reporters and advertising reps. That’s where I met News & Record reporters such as Tim Pittman, Julie Gilberto and Jody Taylor. The Leader was inserted into individual county editions of the News & Record twice a week.

This RockinghamNow deal seems a lot like that – only it’s not delivered with the News & Record.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, huh?

11 thoughts on “Disappearing newspapers and history — casualties of time

  1. Right on, Madison or should I say, Mad Dog? You let them have it and gave us all something to think about. The new journalism and new way of doing things is not always better and the short cuts used are not the best ways to tell readers or viewers and listeners what is going on. Sometimes we need to pause, check out sources and take time to explain things in a thoughtful manner. And thanks for using my thoughts on these matters.
    – Ted

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  2. Thanks for bringing back some fond memories of my first full-time job in Rockingham County! I moved from North Carolina 30 years ago and left newspapers almost 20 years ago, but I still remember those days fondly. I was inspired by so many talented and dedicated reporters.

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