Vital Signs

On the Death of Newspapers

This past week, word came to me that a close friend and book-review editor of a major daily newspaper had been laid off after 16 years of service.  The book page, one of the nation’s best, would be reduced by half, and his “replacement” would be a youngster from the city desk, a competent young woman utterly inexperienced in book-review editing; her salary is considerably lower than my friend’s was.

A day after hearing this, I learned that another editor I know would find out in a few weeks if he would survive the latest round of cuts.  The irony is that he was one of the “youngsters” who replaced a venerated and higher-paid editor laid off about a year before.  I can name more than a dozen veteran editors, feature writers, and reporters for major dailies who have been terminated in one way or another over the past two years.

It’s not news that the nation’s newspapers are on their way to extinction.  Two substantial papers in Denver and Seattle have recently folded; rumor has it that three or four more are on the brink of closure; perhaps as many as a dozen will either go bankrupt or be forced to truncate themselves into unrecognizable entities before the end of the year.

Such a change is probably inevitable.  An entire generation of Americans has grown up without developing so much as a casual relationship with a daily paper, relying instead on television and...

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