Newspapers catch the heartbeat of your hometown or America

By Michael Raffety 9-9-13

We used to have a subscription to the New York Times News Service. Along with it I purchased the right to 25 photos a year. It was suggested by our corporate owner when we added a fourth publication day. Those were flusher times in the newspaper business. It worked out well at the time because we were able to provide some exciting news and photos from the first Gulf War.

The NYT service included features from a whole lot of big-name papers around the country. We usually used feature material in the back pages. Because we concentrated on feature stories we didn’t have to rely on New York Times news stories, which I have come to look at with suspicion. Every time I read a story in another newspaper, such as the Sacramento Bee, and it seems to have a political slant, I look back at the byline and see New York Times and that’s all the explanation I need. Often I see that byline and I won’t even bother reading it. I know it’s making a point instead of providing information I can get somewhere else with less politics.

Our newspaper reporters have always done a pretty darned good job of just presenting the facts as best as they can find them. Sometimes government officials don’t always have a flattering portrait in the press. Georgetown Divide Public Utility District is the latest example. Garden Valley Fire Protection District has not come out looking very good before that. The El Dorado Irrigation District seemed in a similar death spiral after it lost Harry Dunlop as general manager and an increasingly erratic and bizarre collection of crackpots gained a majority on the board. That era of incompetence ended around 2000 with the recall of one board member and the election of a more business-like board that treated the employees and staff with respect and established a more productive relationship with state regulatory officials.

Newspapers I’ve liked included the Washington Post and the Roseville Press Tribune. The Press Tribune has had three incarnations. Early in my career when I was still city editor here I visited the managing editor of the Press Tribune, Bill Small, an enthusiastic young guy like myself, who even played in a rock band after work. They were in an old bank building, with the newsroom on the second floor. The front page of the Press Tribune didn’t follow the modular layout that was becoming fashionable then and remains so. It followed a more old-fashioned vertical format that featured a story count of as many as 12 all-local stories on the front page compared to our horizontal layout that generally includes five and no more than seven stories, though once or twice I managed to cram eight stories on a front page.

The second incarnation of the Roseville Press Tribune came after Small left and a new owner took over and really poured some money into the paper. It had a fabulous design. I looked forward to getting my exchange copy to see what the latest edition looked like. It was as good as the Orange County Register, the Palm Beach Post, though not as radically innovative as the 1980s version of the Allentown, Pa., Morning Call.

The third incarnation of the Press Tribune was its acquisition by a chain that turned it into a more prosaic product that is totally uninspiring.

Bill Small wound up as editor of the Fairfield Daily Republic. No more rock band. He seemed more formal and bald when I last met him at a journalism function. He’s older than I am and has since retired.

I like the Washington Post for its feature stories. I like the New York Post and the New York Daily News for their chutzpah, their daring headlines and their fierce pursuit of local news. The first time my wife and I visited New York I read the Post every morning. In 2006, it was the only paper that covered sexual harassment charges against Knicks Coach Isiah Thomas. In 2007 the Knicks lost an $11.6 million sexual harassment lawsuit in a three-week jury trial. By that time even the AP covered it, saying the award went “to a former team executive who endured crude insults and unwanted advances from coach Isiah Thomas.”

But for sheer interest and outstanding reporting, the best newspaper is the Wall Street Journal. It consistently finds interesting feature stories, scoops like the amazingly detailed story on the NSA’s reach into the Internet. The Wall Street Journal has regular news stories written by staff that provide facts, quotes and background that make other major newspapers look prosaic. And newspapers that rely on Associated Press stories are poorer for it.

Best of all are the Journal’s editorials. They have such an impressive file of facts and receive reports that just don’t come to other newspapers. The editorials are an education in themselves. Their guest writers are absolutely top notch. And their crew of editorial writers under the direction of Paul Gigot make their editorials as punchy and cleverly written as New York Daily News and New York Post stories. I remember the Oct. 29, 1975, New York Daily News headline, “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”

One of my favorite WSJ editorials appeared Aug. 23 and was titled “Double-Secret Probation for Bashar.”

I actually laughed out loud on a Friday while I read that during lunch:

“Not privy to internal White House deliberations, we can’t rule out that Assad is on Dean Obama’s double-secret probation list, along with all the other misbehaving Blutos in the global animal house.”

And on that same page, “Casey Stengel’s Nasdaq”:

“Can’t anybody here play this game?” That famous line from manager Casey Stengel about his 1962 New York Mets came to mind on Thursday as the Nasdaq stock exchange shut down for more than three hours. Except Nasdaq was America’s first electronic stock exchange and is not a team of big-league rookies, or so we thought.”

Newspapers like the Mountain Democrat catch the heartbeat of your hometown. Great newspapers catch the heartbeat of a big city like New York and keep their finger on the pulse of the cultural milieu of America.

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