Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Behind Bars

163 Behind Bars

Here’s what’s really wrong with the news business. No good bars.

Some of the big newspaper chains have either just sold themselves or are about to or about to donate some organs. Knight Ridder knuckled under to stockholder pressure and sold itself to McClatchy, which dismembered the corpse and sold off the body parts.

The New York Times looks ready to sell the Boston Globe, which it never should have never owned in the first place.

The Tribune Co of Chicago bought the LA Times and its subsidiaries and now looks ready to sell some or all of its parts. Again, stockholder pressure.

General Electric is under pressure to spin off NBC. ABC is owned by Disney and selling off its radio stations. CBS was bought by its one time rival, Viacom, then spun off.

Clear Channel radio is getting ready for auction – and that’s 1200 stations in the United States and a bunch more overseas.

The founder of the New York Daily News drank regularly with his boys at the paper. And when they went on strike, he ran the elevator for those who didn’t.

The News, then, was at 2nd Avenue and 42nd Street, a neighborhood whose other establishments included the Last Automat and a bunch of bad bars, which made them good bars. Now it’s on the far West Side in a warehouse.

The New York Post was way downtown on West Street. Plenty of grunge bars there. Now, they’ve moved to the tourist trap Rockefeller Center. Since it’s mostly make-believe anyway, they can go to Elaine’s or Dash of Salt and pretend there’s sawdust on the floor. And because they’re the Post, they can make it work. No one else can.

At about the same time as the post moved in, the Associated Press moved out to become roommates with the Daily News. The AP bar, Charlie-O’s, had moved out earlier. That meant guys like Riverboat and Dick and Fitz and Francine the Hockey Queen had to bring their own. And there went the neighborhood.

Are you following all this?

Reuters moved from scattered locations into Giuliani’s Disneyfied Times Square. At about the same time, the New York Times planned to move over to 8th Avenue at about 43rd, where there is only ONE bad bar left, Smith’s, which is not big enough to serve the entire reporting and editing staff.

Newsday is in a Suffolk County industrial park. The nearest bar is Applebee’s.

WOR radio, which once really had newsmen and women moved from its ramshackle home in the garment district. There was a shlumpy saloon around the corner, and the news people had taken it over and held it hostage after the real garment district beer joints were shoved out. (The also had Schraftt’s and Toffinetti’s. But no newsman would be seen dead in either.)

WINS radio has a few bars left. But they’re closing fast as the neighborhood gets “transformed.”

ABC is all spread out around Lincoln Center.

Bloomberg News moved from a pair of conjoined but separately owned office towers on Park to an eyesore of a skyscraper (Star Trek meets the 1957 DeSoto) a block east on Lexington. No place to go from either the old or new places.

NBC was deserted by its bar, Hurley’s which finally bowed to tourist trap pressure and sold its building which was entirely surrounded by, but not part of Rock Center. Hurley’s had an NBC telephone extension under the bar. The newsdesk (and the Carson show’s producers) knew to use it.

CBS is the only man standing with a decent news bar within staggering distance.

News turns on the quality of the saloons that serve it.

How are you supposed to do a decent job if you HAVE to do it sober? Not that every reporter from every outlet was busy drinking. But even the teetotalers were part of the Culture of Lubrication.

Cronkite didn’t drink on the job. But Harry Reasoner certainly did. Did it matter? Sure. You can’t be that wry without some rye if you’re a farmer from Iowa reporting from The Big City.

The New York Herald Tribune, the Daily Mirror, the Journal-American, the Star Journal, the World Telegram, PM, The Compass, the Daily Worker and WNEW News all gone.

Now, nobody’s reading the papers. It ain’t the internet. It’s the stockholders or the people who fear what the stockholders think, did it.

That’s what’s wrong with the news business. That, and also the reporters are dying of thirst.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2006 WJR

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