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Saturday, March 05, 2011

Guest writer Joe Finnerty speaks

On February 23, I wrote a column for the Scottsdale Republic reflecting on the challenges the newspaper business has faced since the introduction of radio in 1920. These challenges were not only from radio but from wire services, television, and now, the Internet. In spite of them, the hard copy newspaper still exists.

Mr. Joe Finnerty of Scottsdale was born in 1927 and at 83, has four great grandchildren. He also is a lifelong newspaper reader who has seen many changes in the newspaper business. This is a piece he wrote fifteen years ago relating to newspapers as he has seen them through the years.

I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE by Joe Finnerty

Years ago I subscribed to both the Arizona Republic and the Scottsdale Progress, the former a morning edition, the latter a late afternoon publication. The Mesa Tribune acquired the Scottsdale Progress, renamed it the Scottsdale Tribune, and began dropping many of the editorial columnists I liked to read. Then, it switched to become a morning newspaper. I found two to be too many, and set about trying to determine which subscription to cancel.

It proved to be a difficult choice to make. I liked many of the Tribune’s features, especially its New York Times crossword puzzles. However, I found that the coverage provided by the Scottsdale section of the Republic, published every Wednesday, more than met my need to find out about my fair city. That made my decision easier to make. I canceled my subscription to the Tribune, with some second thoughts.

Selecting which of two papers to spurn is akin to choosing between a spouse and a mistress. They both have their unique appeal. It is possible I will renew my subscription to the Tribune if my lust for it becomes unbearable.

Growing up in Metropolitan New York provided me with ample opportunity to evaluate newspapers. I had my choice of the following: The New York Times; Herald Tribune; Journal American; World-Telegram; Daily News; Daily Mirror; Brooklyn Eagle; New York Post; Jersey Observer; Hudson Dispatch; and a few more.

In my grade school years, my mother chose to read the Daily Mirror because it arrived at our candy store minutes before the Daily News. This gave her a head start in reviewing the horseracing program for the following day, information vital to her economic well-being. On summer nights, while people sat on apartment stoops, my mother would send me across the street with a nickel in hand. This provided sufficient capital to buy the Mirror, a real cigarette for her, and a candy one for me. Pleasures were inexpensive back then.

I came to love that paper because it had wonderful coverage of New York's myriad sports teams and the best comic strips, including Dick Tracy. I learned important news by reading Walter Winchell, the quintessential gossip guru. The front page carried screaming headlines and pictures of gore and blood, with details on page three.

After college, I began commuting via subway to my job in lower Manhattan and began to consider other possible newspaper choices. I tried them all, at one time or another. Gradually, I came to favor the Times. The crossword puzzles captured my attention more than the editorial page.

The convenient size of the News, Post, and Mirror made them easy to read in a crowded subway and accounted for their popularity then and to this day. In contrast, it took skill to fold the other papers down to a manageable size for reading while standing in a moving railcar, hanging on to a strap, crushed in by a crowd of other riders. Many of them cared little which paper they read as long as they could pick up a discarded one. No class, dat's what some of dem New Yorkers ain't got.

I bought both the Times and the American on Sunday. The Times had all the heavy stuff, whereas the American had the funnies. I figure the Times cost me a lot of extra dough over the years by refusing to print comic strips. I called them the “American" and the "Un-American." I would purchase both after attending church. Occasionally, for some reason or other, the candy store would run out of Sunday papers. I would go ape. How could a citizen enjoy a Sunday without a paper? I would trek around Hoboken to see if I could buy one elsewhere, but this added inconvenience made the papers less interesting. It spoiled the whole ritual. As a last resort, to guarantee availability, I began pre-paying for them.

In my late twenties, I moved to the San Francisco Bay area. There, I soon discovered I had few choices when it came to newspapers. I subscribed to both the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Mateo Times. One was a morning paper, the other an evening edition. However, it took quite a while for me to get used to them. They did not compare favorably with New York’s papers. I thought the editorials and the columnists were less than first rate. It took years to overcome my bias toward the New York papers.

For a while, I continued to subscribe to the Sunday New York Times, but the cost was too prohibitive for my purse and I had to drop my subscription. I never renewed it. I had access to another worthwhile paper to fill the void.

During my working years in Arizona, my employer paid for my subscription to the Wall Street Journal. I paid for my own subscription for a few years after I retired, but my enthusiasm for reading financial stories dwindled. Articles covering the state of the copper market, for example, no longer seemed of vital interest to me.

The public criticizes newspapers for what they print, or how they report the news. Many readers notice and complain about the numerous spelling and grammatical errors which appear with some regularity. Just a few days ago a feature editorial in the Republic read, "taking it to this plain" when the spelling should have been "plane" for all to see. I sympathize, however, because the relentless pressure to meet press deadlines, day after day, week after week, must be nail biting. It is a tough business.

The biggest advantage to dropping my subscription to the Scottsdale Progress is the reduction in trash. As it turns out, my recycle container is barely large enough to hold my weekly toss-outs. If the Republic would tailor the paper to meet my specific criteria, it would please me. I would prefer never to receive the Sunday want-ads, for instance, which I deep-six upon delivery.

Newspapers are folding faster than I could fold them while riding the Hudson Tubes. Struggling to print all the news that’s fit to print on paper, they are switching to an electronic format. While the day is not far off when a computer network will be able to provide me with a newspaper matching my specific interests, I will not subscribe. Who wants a computer in the bathroom?

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