I am delighted to welcome back guest blogger Lisa Black!
WHAT HAPPENED TO NEWSPAPERS?
Nobody reads them any more. Major dailies have been shutting their doors, laying off staff right and left, selling out to the large chains like Gannett and McClatchy. Soon they will disappear for good.
Or so everyone says.
I feel very strongly about newspapers. My most rock-solid, secure childhood memories would be waking for school in the 4th, 5th through 12th grades. My father would make me two pieces of buttered toast and a cup of tea and give me the “Life” section with the movie reviews and the comics, and we would eat in companionable silence until it was time to catch the bus. Reading the paper over breakfast is still my favorite part of the day, a self-indulgent luxury I refuse to give up. I’m lucky that I live in a city (Fort Myers) that still has a decent-sized paper with seven-day home delivery.
Newspapers were a vital form of communication in the days before the internet, cable, television, radio or even telegraph. With the advent of the printing press newspapers began in the 1700s and grew steadily. Most were heavily biased and bore more resemblance to the National Enquirer than the Times. Writing an entire story based on complete supposition was not frowned upon. Businesses paid for favorable portrayals. You think today’s elections are dirty? Check out the John Adams vs. Thomas Jefferson election of 1800, in which each candidate had everything from their parentage to their masculinity savaged in print. But newspapers also became forces for advocacy and exposition, a vital part of everyday life.
So what changed? As one character explains to my protagonist, forensic specialist Maggie Gardiner, “Technology, to give the simplest explanation. Television, radio grabbed our audience and readership began to decline. This was the forties, long before the internet and Craigslist decimated what we had left. Reading newspapers is a habit, and it’s a generational habit. Then another whammy came in the sixties and seventies, when the printing process changed. It began to require more skilled labor, more sophisticated machines. Small town, family-owned papers were overwhelmed. The chains came in like carpetbaggers.”
“Gannett, Knight-Ridder, Tribune, McClatchy. They threw money at the families who were pained but relieved to sell out. By 1977, ten percent of newspaper corporations owned two-thirds of the papers in this country. They invested, updated equipment, eliminated at least fifty percent of production line jobs. Printing, handling tasks were handled by machines instead of men. Profits, not coincidentally, climbed. People say now that the business model for newspapers never did work well, but that’s not true. Papers had always been profitable, but no one expected more than percents in the teens. Suddenly profits were in the twenties and the teens were no longer good enough. Hell, in 2008 Gannett slashed ten percent of its workforce when they were still making eighteen percent! McClatchy slashed a third when they were making twenty-one. Times hadn’t changed, so much as expectations.”
Another character adds: ““And now here we are, maybe having come full circle. News—news, as an entity, has gone back to being the utterly biased, paid-for-by-sponsor pack of screed it started out as in the 1700s because it can’t turn a profit any other way. It did for nearly a hundred years, but Craigslist and eBay and Twitter have gutted the only thing about a paper that brought in more than it cost–advertising. Everyone keeps saying that it will all sort out and we’ll settle into some balanced system of digital and print media, and, oh, find some way of paying for it. Maybe through advertising, except that’s not panning out because too much of the internet is free. Hugely popular blog or multimedia sites, like the Drudge Report or HuffPost, still largely repeat content they get elsewhere and barely break even money-wise. Or maybe some system of public funding like PBS, libraries, and schools, which is not as much of a conflict of interests as it first appears. Something. Anything. But I’ve been watching and waiting for this ‘settling’ to occur. So far, it ain’t happening.”
And that’s what happened to newspapers.
About the book:
A Gardiner and Renner Novel, Book 2
Maggie Gardiner, a forensic expert who studies the dead, and Jack Renner, a homicide cop who stalks the living, form an uneasy partnership to solve a series of murders in this powerful new thriller by the bestselling author of That Darkness.
It begins with the kind of bizarre death that makes headlines—literally. A copy editor at the Cleveland Herald is found hanging above the grinding wheels of the newspaper assembly line, a wide strap wrapped around his throat. Forensic investigator Maggie Gardiner has her suspicions about this apparent suicide inside the tsunami of tensions that is the news industry today—and when the evidence suggests murder, Maggie has no choice but to place her trust in the one person she doesn’t trust at all . . .
Jack Renner is a killer with a conscience, a vigilante with his own code of honor. In the past, Jack has used his skills and connections as a homicide detective to take the law into his own hands, all in the name of justice. He has only one problem: Maggie knows his secret. She insists he enforce the law, not subvert it. But when more newspaper employees are slain, Jack may be the only person who can help Maggie unmask the killer– even if Jack is still checking names off his own private murder list.
About the author:
Lisa Black has spent over 20 years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and now as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police dept. Her books have been translated into 6 languages, one reached the NYT Bestseller’s List and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.