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30.4.09

The Eclipse of the Sun

It seems appropriate that it's overcast in Baltimore this morning. In a move that of course shouldn't be so shocking, but it is, the owner of the Baltimore Sun newspaper put several more nails in its coffin on Wednesday by firing 60 employees in one swoop, including some of its last remaining top editors.

Founded by Arunah Shepherdson Abell, a journeyman printer from Rhode Island who believed in the concept of a people's paper devoted to the news that most directly affected the lives of its readers, The Sun first appeared on Wednesday, May 17, 1837. That issue consisted of four tabloid-size pages, sold for a penny, and was in marked contrast to the six-cent "literary" dailies then in fashion all along the East Coast.
For some the Sun died with Mencken: I put it to rest physically this past January, when I canceled my home delivery after some 25 years; emotionally it ended when my good friend Linell had left in frustration two years ago. Linell would work on stories for months, digging, checking, rewriting, and making last-minute phone calls to be sure the interviewee's memory was correct. Then the lay-outs with photographs would have to be scanned one more time. It was a very satisfying, yet emotional process.

Linell was from the post-Vietnam, civil rights, post-Watergate generation that reinvigorated the newspaper industry. It was a moral issue -- how could you not become a reporter? Just like for me becoming an artist, just like Mencken.

I remember, with fondness and grief, rolling out of bed on a nasty cold New England morning, riding my bike to the newspaper office of the Worcester Telegram and finding a large bundle of newspapers with "Barry" hand written on the wrapping, (not to be too sentimental, but you could smell the ink, one of the reasons I now love making lithographs). For an eleven year-old boy that was an amazing sight to behold, I sensed the great responsibility to see that each paper got delivered, I was part of the cycle of news.

The late art critic for the Baltimore Sun, John Dorsey, gave me my first review back in 1983. It was a group show at School 33 Art Center. I remember waking up to a full-color picture of my painting on the cover of the Feature section and a very thoughtful positive review, but John was always thoughtful and always positive in all his writing. By 8 o'clock that morning I had two phone calls inquiring whether the painting was for sale. Hell yeah, it was and all three in the exhibit sold. Several years later the Sun purchased one of my paintings, and it proudly hung in the Calvert Street lobby for many years.

Where the future lies for the news industry is an ongoing debate. It's already in an online transition, forming, changing rapidly, and that's good. I now get most of my news online and get the Sunday New York Times print edition so I can get lost in the folds of the paper. I mourn the loss of local papers, and I'm disgusted by the crudeness with which career reporters are shown the door. Let's take a moment to remember.

UPDATE:
After my initial worries, it has just been confirmed that classical music critic Tim Smith is not among the casualties. --Ed.

3 comments:

libby said...

Being married to a former newsman, we run constant conversational obits for papers lately. Just this weekend, at a memorial service for a former news reporter and friend, the talk was as much about speculation of how newsgathering would servive as it was about our friend, who died too soon.

We all asked each other, How do you get your news these days? We still get the Philadelphia Inquirer in my house. But we dread its loss. And we also get the weekend New York Times. But that too is not in great shape. Only the Wall Street Journal seems to be prospering as it reports the downfall of the financial house of cards.

Its so sad about the Sun. We like to think it coulda been a contender, but we're probably just kidding ourselves.

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mark said...

Reprinted from my Facebook page: John Shanklin at 11:04am May 3
Nice article Mark, I worked with these people and they were the backbone of the newsroom. We put many a paper to bed under unbelievable conditions. These wern't just people who came and did their job, this was their passion. Four deadlines nightly, breaking stories, last minute edits, broken equipment, running the stairwells knowing that every ... Read Moreminute counted, split second decisions, what a rush! I would get phone calls long after editions closed some nights asking me to double check one final detail, even after they left work, they still lived it. To say these people gave their all would be putting it mildly, they gave their life and heart to this paper and to be escorted out the way they were is just pathetic. It's easy to see why papers are dying, the people running them have no souls. Hell, half of them have never even been apart of what I described above. I just want to say to anyone reading this and especially those who were let go, it was an honor to have worked with you.