For those of us who were there during its heyday, especially those of us who were part of it, the slow death of the newspaper industry has been most saddening. What else can you call it, as more and more newspapers across the country have stopped publication? When I first became a reporter for the former Daily Times-Advocate in 1952 – 64 years ago – there were five daily newspapers and eight weeklies serving or soon to be serving readers throughout San Diego County. Today? There is only one daily newspaper – and all those eight weeklies are gone.
What happened? Remember, that was way before the internet, maybe the primary reason for the demise of the print industry.
In those 60 plus years ago, the daily newspapers were the San Diego Union, San Diego Evening-Tribune, Oceanside Blade-Tribune, El Cajon Californian and my paper, the T-A. The weekly newspapers, all thriving in their little communities, were the Vista Press, Fallbrook Enterprise, Ramona Sentinel, Poway Chieftan, Encinitas Coast-Dispatch, Del Mar Surfcomber, National City Star-News and the La Jolla Light.
That lone daily newspaper today trying to serve all of San Diego County is the San Diego Union-Tribune, which essentially has abandoned Escondido and the other North County communities. But I can understand why. It does not have the staff or the number of daily pages needed to provide adequate coverage of those communities outside the city of San Diego. And because of the cost, it is not willing to provide that extra staff and pages.
We do have a handful of free-distribution tabloid weeklies, including this publication, and the weekly Valley Center Roadrunner, providing limited coverage of their areas. But the problem with free-distribution papers is that there is not guarantee of how many people are reading them.
It is sad that we have no daily newspaper here in Escondido to keep tabs on the everyday doings of the city council and government, the local school boards and other government agencies. Like it or not, the potential for government wrongdoing is strongest.
Across the country 60 years ago, there were an estimated 1,500 daily newspapers and an untold number of weeklies. But, no more.
Among the major daily newspapers were the two recognized as bellwethers of the industry – the New York Times and the Washington Post – still the giants among their peers. Among the other respected dailies were the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor (today, relegated to weekly magazine format), the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Glove, New York Post, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Mirror, Seattle Times, Baltimore Sun, Philadelphia Inquirer, Atlanta Constitution, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Press, Des Moines Register, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Denver Post, and the Dallas Morning News. Some of those papers have since stopped publication and some have changed ownership over the years.
The USA Today, nationally distributed, did not begin publishing until 1980, when it was started by the Gannett Corp., owner of more than 100 newspapers of varying sizes, and which has tried to acquire the 7 Tribune Co. of Chicago, owner of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Any newspaper that publishes editorials, which, I believe, are intended to stimulate you into thinking about a given issue, is going to be criticized by those who disagree with that editorial philosophy. But any responsible newspaper will give that critic a forum to express that disagreement through its letters to the editor.
I know that most of the younger and today’s generations are hooked on the internet, ignoring a newspaper. They glean what they want of national and international news through that source or get tidbits of local news through television.
But maybe for many of us from past generations, there is nothing like holding a newspaper in your hands, contemplating as long as you want the printed word, savoring the sometimes eloquent prose of a writer, fondling the pages – and coming away with 10 fingers laden with printer’s ink!
What does the future hold for newspapers? We don’t really know, but the outlook is bleak as we move more and more into the age of technology.
Ron Kenney was a reporter and editor for the former Daily Times-Advocate from 1952 to 1979 and was a copy editor on the editorial pages of the San Diego Union-Tribune from 1985 to 1997.