It probably isn’t news to anyone currently breathing that every newspaper owning corporation in the United States is currently in bankruptcy Chapter 11 proceedings. Here in Philadelphia, after sinking more that 500 million bucks to take the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philly Daily News off the hands of the guys who bought them from Knight Ridder, the purchasing group headed by Brian Tierney et al. ended more than eleven months of negotiations with creditors by filing for Chapter 11 protection with the United States Bankruptcy Court, meaning reorganization and possible liquidation. There are serious rumors that only one of the two newspapers will survive, probably the Inquirer.
In a way, this is strange, because there was a time in Philadelphia, and I don’t mean going back to Ben Franklin, when it was obvious that the Inquirer was the worst and most pitiful newspaper in town. The Philadelphia Public Ledger was the newspaper of record (its building still stands at 6th & Chestnut) for many decades, while the Philadelphia Bulletin was clearly the better of the two papers while the Bulletin and Inquirer were the two main papers in the second half of the 20th century.
Of course, the Public Ledger went under in the Great Depression; it died in a court-ordered liquidation in 1941 or 1942. This may just be history repeating itself. The Public Ledger was owned jointly by the owners of the NY Times, incidentally.
For a complete list of ALL newspapers ever printed in Philadelphia, go to this website pdf of newspapers held by the free library of philadelphia;
you’ll be shocked and amazed how many newspapers there have been and how many small ones there still are other than the inquirer and daily news even now.
But then again, the Philadelphia Athletics won five world series and too many pennants to count between 1901 and 1953, and were the main baseball team in Philadelphia for more than fifty years. No one gave a fig about the Phillies. It was only after Connie Mack died and the A’s moved away that the Phillies finally developed a fan base, and even then not really until the 1964 pennant run with Dick Allen and Jim Bunning did they really draw any fans. But who remembers the A’s today in Philly? Where are they today? No one in Philadelphia remembers them at all.
There’s a small museum in one of the counties, and a small bronze plaque at the new ballpark. That’s about it for the team that in the first half of the 20th century was the second best ballclub in the American League, and by far the best professional sports team in Philadelphia.
Getting back to newspapers, the point is that you can’t understand history by looking at it now. If you looked around now and saw humans, you’d never know that dinosaurs once ruled the earth. Likewise, looking around and seeing the Inquirer being the main newspaper, you’d never know that once there was a Public Ledger, a Bulletin, and probably a dozen other papers. Even the Saturday Evening Post, the nation’s number one women’s magazine, was published right here in Philadelphia, but it died too. That building is still around also. We have seen the end of magazines like Life, the Saturday Evening Post, and most recently, U.S. News & World Report, in the past forty years. Now newspapers are dying as well.
There were a lot of great movies about newspapers. The best movie of all time is about newspapers. Here I refer to Citizen Kane (1941), which is a thinly veiled biopic of William Randolph Hearst and his media empire.
There’s also Meet John Doe (1936) and let’s not forget All the President’s Men (1974).
I’d throw in Broadcast News (1980s) as well, even though it’s really a TV movie, just because it’s flat out hysterically funny and not at all dated, and because Brooks is one of my favorite comics in the world other than Mike Reiss. Just looking at Brooks makes you laugh.
But history does repeat itself. The Hearst media empire was bankrupted by the Great Depression—so much so that Hearst himself, so rich that he could build the Heart mansion—the famous “Xanadu” in the Kane movie—in San Simeon, California—now a famous museum—actually lost all his money to his creditors in bankruptcy proceedings and lost control of his newspaper holdings. No one today has heard of the New York newspapers that Hearst made his fortune from.
Now, we are going through another serious economic dislocation which is again severely affecting media badly. As badly as Hearst was affected by the Depression and War years, that’s how badly newspapers and old media will be affected this time around. Add to that the free news which is available on the internet, and on every persons’ telephone, and one would be silly to expend money for a newspaper.
It’s quite obvious that within another twenty years, there will be no more magazines or newspapers in print at all, that everything will be delivered right to your computer, tv or phone via internet. Maybe (and I often futurize about this) the convergence of nanotechnology and biotechnology will eventuate in a chip being implanted in your brain or neural net, so that you can visualize the images yourself without a machine mediating at all. Perhaps we’ll all be connected to the internet and to each other one day in such a fashion. It’s difficult to make radical predictions, but then again, in 1910, no one could have predicted that baseball, then a deadball sport based on bunting, stealing and pitching, would in the 1920s and thereafter become a sport of sitting around waiting for someone to hit a three run home run.
I will miss the Philadelphia Daily News. For the last forty years, it’s been the best sports paper in the country, and I’ve read all the other papers around, including the Boston Globe, the Chicago, the LA, the NY and SF papers. NY has tabloids basically and no good writing at all; the Boston Globe for a long time had great writers, but they’ve all gone to ESPN or national outlets where the money really is; and no other city really had good sports writing. Philly might be the last town in which there’s been good beat writing and sports writing for a long time now.
If the Daily News goes, that will probably be the end of it, though it may survive on line since there’s an online edition of the daily news that’s pretty good, and even better, available nationally to all former philly residents who follow their teams. So when they throw the last daily news into the fire and you see the sled burning with the name “rosebud,” remember you read it here—this was all a story about Charley Foster Kane, who wanted to be the world’s greatest newspaperman, and succeeded all too well.
By the way, I mentioned in a prior post that GE was way off about Jimmy Fallon? GE stock is now trading at five dollars a share. That’s right, five dollars a share. they made a big deal about this on one of the network news shows while i was working out on the elliptical at the gym. whoa nellie! The stock apparently has completely crashed.
Jack and Suzy Welch, would you buy this company’s stock? It was trading at $40 just last year. And now it’s down to $5 a share and dropping like a rock. Pretty soon it will be worth, say, 1923 German deutsche marks, which is to say, nothing.
Oh yes I would says the Wizard of OZ. You can get a thousand shares in this company now for the price of a song. Heck, the only place the stock can go is a little down, or a lot up.
I said they should have bumped Leno three years ago. While I recognize most of their problems are with GE Capital, entertainment is the division that’s always recession proof.
If you’re not sure about that, check out the fact that 1930s and 1970s are the greatest eras of film history.
Jimmy Fallon had another great show–Jon Bon Jovi did a duet with one of his fans, while Tina Fey sat and rooted the two of them on. I think it was the girls’ dream moment of her life, all caught on camera. You can bet that will be on youtube.
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