Monday, July 4, 2022

OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 16-09-2017 11:25

A sorry song for the sad end of the small paper

The small paper is dying everywhere. People don’t care, not much, not at all.

A strong sense of defeat is brought on by an oncoming new age. It is a feeling of loss for the printed page, already declared to be in inevitable re-mortem.

The tragedy is irrelevant to an expanding population of half-living humans right across the planet who prefer to welcome the advent of a sombre  and robotical existence.

The small paper is dying everywhere. People don’t care, not much, not at all. Many are forgetting the daily joy of the production of an informed document that can span the world, or a village, from adverts-planner to reader.

Quite a few feel that the local news rag is still around, albeit as part of a group of titles owned and managed by a regional company which is itself a minor part of a larger corporation with headquarters elsewhere. But those locals are no longer the small papers we lived with and needed, which became personal items, and which (in five or six years, according to some forecasts) will go into gallery displays alongside the watercolours of dead dodos.

Journalist Annalies Winney, writing in The Guardian on August 24, reflected on the end of the Baltimore City Paper, “which has hit the streets for  40 years… the paper’s parent company was being forced by declining ad revenue to print its last issue by the end of (this) year, the impact was clear… in the past decade, hundreds of newspapers across (the US) have shut down or merged, resulting in an American urban media landscape pockmarked with ‘news deserts’ that have left many cities with only one local newspaper – and in some cases, none.”

Ms Winney’s reference to the “impending closure of the Baltimore City Paper, the local alt-weekly,” was about 100 alternative weekly publications across US cities. “Each has its own distinct look, tone and editorial position,” she wrote, “but they are united by several things: sprawling  narrative reporting, in-depth stories exploring the fringes of city life and, as one editor put it, calling bullshit on the city’s institutions in a way they feel mainstream media will not. Crucially, of course, they are free.” And once upon a time, decades ago, they were the small papers put together by families.

The following day, David Barnett, in The Independent, wrote on August 25: “For years we’ve had alternative rock — altrock, of course, especially in the US, though we’d be more likely to call it ‘indie’ in the UK — and even alt-lit.

“Alt is experimental, pushing boundaries, railing against the mainstream and the traditional. And so it’s been for 60-odd years with the alt- weeklies. That’s another Americanism of course; we might easily use terminology such as the full name alternative, or independent, or even underground, to describe the once-proliferating periodicals that provided something different from the established news organisations who might have been in existence, in some cases, for hundreds of years.

And now the granddaddy of the alt-weeklies, The Village Voice, is shutting up shop — well, in print form at least.” The Voice, started in 1955, had   circulation of 120,000. The weekly’s current owner, Peter Barbey, said in a statement: “For more than 60 years, The Village Voice brand has played an outsized role in American journalism, politics, and culture. It has been a beacon for progress and a literal voice for thousands of people  whose identities, opinions, and ideas might otherwise have been unheard. I expect it to continue to be that and much, much more.”

So, it is with other small papers. To bring the story closer to home, the financial rag Ámbito Financiero, was started in December 1976 by Julio  Ramos (1935-2006), who sold his car and mortgaged his home to launch a daily. And when Ámbito took over the Herald in 2008 by patriotic transfer from the never straight Sergio Szpolsky (who kept the building on Azopardo), the death knell tolled. Some businesses handle heists, but never manage proceeds.

For a considerable number of surviving journalists, the Herald meant a style and a state, not just a job, whatever the news of the time. The voice  of a caller on the night of July 31, reminded me of readers who called late to put a Death notice in Day by Day. I cut off, swallowed hard and then cracked.

Strangely, the mind wandered over the years rather than to anything momentous. There before me as in a dream film paraded the faces of the  ubiquitous Reginald “Toby” Rowland, newsroom all-rounder and community reporter, the long-serving editor Norman Ingrey, the music critic  Fred (or Fritz) Marey (who had a survival circle of bridge-playing ladies), even the cleaner, Luis Bre, who brought coffee to the desk at 2am, and  photographer Vicente Ramponi, whose second income was the sale of wedding photos he took for the Herald. And then there were the “imported” sub-editors, brought by Ingrey to improve the quality of the paper’s content, and so on. Each were part of an extended, nightly, family in which members would take their evening break in the Tortoni, entered by the Rivadavia street door, or La Escalerita, on Tucumán. And one or two even found wives in the dives on 25 de Mayo. All were part of a small paper which would not survive the changing times, in the form  f technology and production.

And it is happening now each day to remaining small papers everywhere. It is a case of a fading class of product. Well, just thought I would ventilate my regrets. Thank you Herald, and thank you now Perfil for a new opportunity and fresh version in the Times.

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Andrew Graham-Yooll

Andrew Graham-Yooll

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1994-2007).


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