Newspapers are dropping like flies

Forrest Johnson

Coal miners and gas and oil workers have been crying the blues of late but  they have nothing on workers in the newspaper industry Nothing.

Newspapers have been dropping like flies the past 15 years as advertisers fled to the internet and Google and Facebook and Twitter and all the other sites able to cash in on the addicts who can’t put their phones down.

All I can say, folks, is that you’ll never be able to start a fire in the woodstove with a cell phone or a laptop. Yes, you can toss those items in after the fire has started but I truly hope someday people decide to go cold turkey and just go back to reading.
But that won’t happen soon. People are just too darn addicted to give up their electronics without an intervention of sorts.

The newspaper industry has dwindled. The various thought herders and propagandists have added fuel to the fire by denying facts and reason and a search for truth through journalism. The thought herders and propagandists have gladly besmirched the professions, culminating with Donald V. (for Vengeance) Rumpt calling us the enemy of the people. I get such a hoot out of a faker like him.

I have to admit I felt a little punch in the gut when I saw that my old newspaper, the Lake County News-Chronicle, was going to fold. After working there as editor and pressman for several decades I figured I was going to retire there and eventually be buried with old Goss Community Press in my burial plot out behind the building.

When the various uppity-ups came by the office 11 years ago to terminate our staff I had a few choice words for their decision. I was never Mr. Budget for our little company, but I knew a dumb budget decision when I saw one. We were still making money and had a nice base of around 4,000 subscribers. We were more than profitable, even with a staff of old timers in their 60s. I was the young one at 55. 

The owners left us alone for a couple of years after they bought the paper but then things turned ugly when the election of 2008 rolled around. I received a FedEx envelope one day that had mandatory political endorsements for a party I’d begun to call the New Conservative Neanderthal Party, formally the republicans.

“Folks,” I told the staff, “here is my first test.”

As a rule, the paper never ran endorsements. And I had another rule: no negative political advertising. None. Tell our readers what you will if elected and leave out stuff about the other guy.

In dramatic fashion in our composing room I tossed their first endorsement in the recycling bin. I was to have run an endorsement urging readers to Vote No on the Legacy Amendment but I wrote an op-ed the week before urging readers to Vote Yes on the amendment that would forever set aside dollars for the environment and the arts. How could the paper in good conscience run such conflicting commentaries in a week’s time?

Next, I was to endorse Sen. Norm Coleman over Al Franken. Well, in dramatic fashion I told the staff that “I must have lost that one” as I tossed it away, never to be seen again.

Finally, I was to endorse Sen. John McCain over Sen. Barack Obama. Well, I did run the McCain endorsement but I also found an Obama endorsement that I ran as well. I believe I put a header above the two endorsements that read “Viewpoint.”

The owners didn’t like that and started to peer over my shoulder. I was then to cut the page count in half and I told them on a weekly basis for months that we were working on that as best we could but we just weren’t able to do that yet. Sorry.

We were to upload all news content daily to our website and all I could do was wrinkle my nose and say we can’t really do that until the newspaper was printed on Thursdays.

When told again to upload all content I could only respond by shrugging my shoulders and asking “If we do that people might not buy the paper on Thursday. And besides, I know a whole lot of people in Lake County that don’t like computers or have cell phones. That just wouldn’t make business sense, would it?”

Then my one loyal writer was to be in the office 9-5 everyday and no overtime. My one loyal writer had a desk in our office but did a lot of her work from her home. They didn’t like that arrangement and mandated that she be in the office daily, a mandate we ignored with a smile. They called often to see if our arrangement had ended and if loyal writer was in the office.

I’d wink at her and tell them “Yes, she’s right here. Would you like to speak with her?”

“You know what I mean,” said the out-of-town publisher. “That she’s in the office full time.”
“Yes, she’s right here, would you like to speak with her?”

Well, all the fun ended in May of 2009. Subscribers fled because they knew we were all canned. Revenues dried up, legals were lost, the office was closed. The paper lived poorly on a budget of austerity. I always wondered how you grow a tree if you cut it down first.

Lake County will sorely miss the old Chronicle. And I can’t thank the community enough for all the support we had over the years and all the writers and columnists and photographers and the folks who’d come in the back door and watch us wind up the old press, adjust the ink and shoot out that week’s news. Mary Nikolai up in Finland wrote her Finland News column for more than 60 years and when she passed her daughter Verna took over. At Mary’s funeral I hung around the back of the church until some family member told me that I had to sit up front. There on Mary’s casket was a Lake County News-Chronicle.

I cried. I’m trying not to cry that my old newspaper is gone but it’s going to be hard.