Pomeranz: The beauty of local papers

I have a confession to make: I like local newspapers.

Go ahead, read your neatly formatted, instantly re-loading, online Wall Street Journal. Smile smugly at the well-typeset stories appropriately concerned but not excessively worried about international developments. Know what’s going on in Brussels and Turtle Bay. Approve of the conveniently monotonous op-eds, except for the token op-ed from the other side. Read statistics.

I will squint at the misprinted pages of a New Haven Register or Chicago Sun-Times. My hands will be dirty with cheap ink — my nose probably will be too. Most of the stories were probably written a week ago. Several will be about the dangers of social networking Web sites to our community’s children. At least one will be about an eating contest. I expect a picture of the latter.

Colorful quotations will be taken out of context, but will be not nearly as colorful as the blue squares happily overlaying the lede on the Register’s front page every day. That page, by the way, will not cover the latest Congressional outrage; it will, however, promise a detailed analysis of Hillhouse High School’s state playoff hopes, in Section D.

Newspapers are dying, and proclaiming allegiance to one species of dying regime over another in the same genus is a bit like saying that I prefer the Hapsburg to the Ottoman Empire. (There are people who talk like that here at Yale — God bless’em.) But spring is a time for romance and to a young boy who liked to think there was romance in the thud of the Chicago Sun-Times on his porch — or, more likely, in the bushes in front of his house, or maybe at the neighbors’ porch or perhaps in the alley, or it could be that today was the day the paper just didn’t show up.

If you’re lucky, you live in a town with two or even three papers, and every day you can pick up the lowest tabloid, easy to read on the train, easy to tuck under your arm, easy to roll up for swatting your dog or a fly.

You started with the universally lame sports headline. (Imagine what Chicago editors did when the Bears named Lovey Smith their new head coach. They didn’t touch the Cubs for a month, instead going with “I THINK I’M IN LOVEY,” etc., day after day.) After getting your fill of the front page — CORRUPTION AT CITY HALL: NOT ME, MAYOR SAYS — you might flip to the local columnists. The Sun-Times, at least, has happily sectarian regulars: the Jewish suburban columnist, the black woman columnist, and so on, each speaking to her own constituency and anyone else who happens to flip past while looking for the continuation of the hospital closing story.

Finally, to the comics, nationally syndicated and universally prosaic. (A few are serial adventures, not properly comedic: “Stacey called.” “Stacey! I thought he was in Mexico.” “Not anymore. Rod, there’s something I have to tell you.” The last phrase shows a distressed woman in a hat and simple pearl earrings talking in the phone on the foreground and a man in a trench coat and a gun standing in a doorway behind her. “I’ll call you back!” Each sentence was differently capitalized, emboldened, underlined, or italicized; 16 different font combinations meant the look could change in the middle of sentences, or even clauses. “You mean — They’ve FOUND her!”) And past that, the car ads. Well, we know where those went.

Somehow, in my mind, The New York Times’s Web site — sleek, lots of good negative space, perhaps even on the verge of a sensible financial model — is tied both to the death of local identity and the death of print media as we know them. Such is the way of the world. Free agency killed the local baseball team, but we wouldn’t deny ball players their rights. Soon they’ll shut down the bars and the baseball and we’ll just be left with Wal-Mart and highways.

Yet even in this age of easy air travel, most Americans and especially most of our fellow human beings don’t have a global perspective. They can’t. Their world is necessarily local. In our own Yale bubble of Light Fellowships and banking — er, consulting — gigs in Dubai, it’s easy to forget about life when you can’t take Metro-North to the city, reading the same headlines as the kid on New Jersey Transit to the city. It’s easy to forget that our parents’ lives — mine, at least — were shaped by street corners they passed every day, and their parents’ lives by villages and fields. The national paper, like the Internet, is great for someone who thinks of himself as on top of the world — but that Olympian, where is he from? And what kind of guy is not from anywhere?

Maybe it was all a serial fantasy. Maybe next week’s three frames will tell us about the next twist in the adventure, or tell us that that guy is from Krypton. Or maybe they will tell us that the problems of this world finally found an Ivy Leaguer’s Kryptonite.

Give me the picture of Dixwell’s eating contest anyway. Those are real people, not just numbers.

Michael Pomeranz is a senior in Silliman College.

Comments

  • Katie Harrison

    Agreed. But does any of your love get extended to the New Haven Independent? Because they are such a cool paper. Especially with stories like this http://www.newhavenindependent.org/archives/2009/03/ed_tangles_with.php

  • Randall Beach

    I thought you were going to acknowledge the worth of local newspapers, but instead you turned it into a predictable diatribe against the "misprinted" New Haven Register. As you note, local and even big-city newspapers are endangered and might not be around in a few months or years. (I know the YDN staff would be at somewhat of a loss without the Register to point them toward certain stories. We do not print "last week's news" and we are working hard as professionals, doing more than eating contests, as you should be aware. Try reading the Register with a little more of an open mind, if possible.
    --Randall Beach, columnist, New Haven Register

  • Anonymous

    I'm kind of stunned that Katie and Randall got enough out of this column to take a position on it.

  • Anonymous

    //I thought you were going to acknowledge the worth of local newspapers,//

    Randall, he did, but you had to read past Paragraph 3 to see it.

  • Peter Johnston

    Best writing in the YDN all term. Thank you, Mr. Pomeranz. You do this local paper proud.

  • Spherical Cow

    Michael,

    I think you miss the forest for the trees. City papers, large and small, focus on the local, the state, the national, and internationl. The degree to which the latter categories are original as opposed to AP or Reuters depends on the local relevance, as well as individual paper.

    The point, I think, is that over the past decade papers have been bought out by corporations, and like everything else, overleveraged with debts incurred in the buyouts. Then, the same corporations have sold them for their parts — "parts" which include staff. This is not to say that declining ad revenues, especially classifieds, would not have eventually meant their demise; but instead of putting in a respirator, we have buried our newspapers live.

    This matters because it ultimately destroys the distinctions you are trying to make between local papers and "other" papers.

    The Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, and yes, the New Haven Register all were much more robust papers before Trib Co and the Journal Courier hacked them to pieces. When the New Havne Register lays off 25-year vet Greg Hladky (to name just one), then yes, it gets much more difficult to cover the state capitol and legislature.

    The New Haven Register covers as much as its overworked reporters can manage. There is nothing wonderful about the fact that it covered an eating contest (I take your word for it); the fact that serious reporting remains at the Register and at other papers nationwide is a testament to those left.

    So sure, celebrate the eating contests; but you'd be better off mouring the loss of all the information that, due to papers closing, you'll never even know your missing.

  • aklein

    I care about an eating contest in New Haven about as much as I care about an eating contest in my home city. Very little.

    Now, an eating contest in Baghdad between Shiites and Sunnis? That's a story.

  • Yale 08

    Newspapers cloud your mind with useless "narratives."

    Reporters suffer from a tiny perspective and a lack of overall knowledge.

    X and Z happened within hours of each other. Therefore X caused Z.

    Typical newspaper garbage.

    One can gain more insight from looking at the stock market indexes for 15 minutes- a place where information is nearly immediately synthesized and transmitted via pricing and trading volume.

    A reporter can write a pretty and moving story.

    But he cannot be accurate, at least not on purpose, only by accident.

  • Me

    Hooray to the New Haven Register, Hooray to the Indepentdent too. JBooo only to anon #3 whose heart and mind aren't moved by the recognition that these local gems won't be the for us in the future.

  • yaleretiree

    Dean Edwards’s announcement of the pending appointment of UCS student liaison counselors in the residential colleges is hardly a new approach to the continuing underlying problems at UCS. Indeed, it is simply an enhancement of a pilot program that was institued by Phil Jones, former UCS Director, in 2003 in which student liaisons were hired and spent several evenings each week in, if memroy serves me correctly, three of the residential colleges. Unfortunately, students failed to use this service despite the fact that it was widely publicized, including an article that year in the YDN. Eventually, the student liaison program was phased out. Dean Edwards’ approach is simply “more of the same old, same old” or what many would term “reinventing the wheel.” Since UCS was moved to 55 Whitney from 1 Hillhouse in 2001, students have continued to complain that the office is located in “outer Mongolia” and that the number of professionally trained career counselors is inadequate for the size of the undergraduate population. This continues to cause two very basic problems: long waiting periods for appointments, especially at certain times of the year; and the inability to develop an on-going relationship with an individual advisor since the counselor-to-student ratio is unrealistic and thus unworkable. If Dean Edwards is truly serious about addressing student concerns, then she would seek to relocate UCS to a more central location on campus and to restructure her budget to hire additional full-time counselors who have the practical training and education required in master’s level degree programs in career counseling. Training Yale students to work part-time as UCS career assistants when the stated need of the student body is for additional professional counselors does not address the basic problem of easy accessibilty to appropriately trained full-time UCS counselors.