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Posts Tagged ‘newspaper’

For those who like a good news-bath, there’s no richer fount of information than a Sunday New York Times.

Even in this vaunted journalistic age, the Good Gray Lady’s Sunday edition is still a potent collection of news, comment, wit, perspective, and what A.J. Liebling used to call “agglutinated sapience.” Few, if any, American newspapers can compare.

Our journey this week involves one of a million such dead-tree doorstops. Specifically, this one made its way to the dinner table of a draftsman and his family in suburban Stamford.

But why?

May 3, 1964.

May 3, 1964. The Mets have played 16 games – and are already eight games out of first place.

I’ve previously written that my grandfather’s newspaper loyalties lay primarily with the New York Daily News — “New York’s Picture Newspaper” — and with the hometown afternoon paper, the Stamford Advocate.

So why would he leave himself a special note to buy the New York Times?

I’m especially puzzled because I don’t think it was common newspaper practice back then to tease what you had coming up on Sunday.

Today’s newspapers are not shy about promoting upcoming stories. (Many of them will get anything really cracking up on their websites ASAP, rather than hold it.)

I don’t think that was as common a practice in 1964. Papers were more protective of their scoops — in part because many cities were still home to more than one paper, and they didn’t want to tip their hands to their rivals. Which leads me to wonder how my grandpa knew in advance that he had to have a copy of the Sunday Times.

Inevitably, this calendar entry sent me searching to find out what was in the May 3, 1964, New York Times that might have interested my grandfather.

I have a book of historic Times front pages big enough to land a Piper Cub on, and the May 3 edition is not reprinted in it. So there couldn’t have been anything truly historic on the front page that day.

The Web mentions a couple items that might have been interesting at the time, though I don’t think any of them would have enticed my grandpa to buy the paper:

– The weekly magazine ran A.M. Rosenthal’s “Study of the Sickness Called Apathy,” a follow-up article about the March murder of Kitty Genovese, who was reportedly stabbed to death while dozens of neighbors did nothing. (More recent accounts suggest that the Times sensationalized the case, and the paper’s initial reports — which fixed the details of the case in America’s national memory — were largely untrue.)

– In the world of arts, Howard Taubman reviewed a production of James Baldwin’s “Blues for Mister Charlie,” telling readers in New Canaan and Mount Kisco that “Mr. Baldwin speaks fervidly for the Negro’s anguish and passion, and none of us can afford not to heed him.” (However earnest Mr. Taubman’s prose might have been, getting an actual Negro to review the production seems in retrospect like a worthwhile step.)

– Timesman McCandlish Phillips — who became better-known the following year after he unmasked the Jewish background of a prominent Klansman and American Nazi — contributed a story about the high cost of food at the recently opened 1964-65 World’s Fair.

Wikipedia says the first major student demonstrations against the Vietnam War took place May 3, 1964, in several locations including Times Square. Maybe that got covered in advance somewhere in the Sunday Times.

Perhaps there was a letter from a Stamfordite, or a feature story about Stamford, somewhere in that Sunday’s Times. Again, I’m not sure how my grandpa would have known about that, but maybe some sort of grapevine informed him.

Given the sheer heft of a Sunday Times, I guess it’s impossible for me to surmise what my grandpa would have considered must-read about it. Unless the Internet gods drop a vintage copy in my lap, I’ll probably never know.

(Note to the Internet gods: If you have a copy, try to drop it on me from a low altitude. Catching those Sunday editions upside the head sure does sting.)

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Monday’s post, incidentally, was the 100th in the history of 5,478 Days/Hope Street. Thanks to all who have tuned in. I will endeavor to keep making it worth your while.

In Monday’s post, I briefly mentioned that my grandpa used to win and place in the Stamford Advocate’s reader photography contests back in the 1950s.

In keeping with the Blumenau family philosophy of keeping everything (and knowing where to find it), I’ve unearthed some of the old newspapers in which my grandpa’s prize-winning photographs originally ran.

Check it out, news nerds: This is what “reader-supplied value-added content” looked like when Dwight Eisenhower was President. (Of course you can click any of the pix to see ’em bigger.)

The above pic appeared in the Aug. 22, 1953, Advocate. The cutline says this picture of my dad, Aunt Elaine, and two slow-moving friends was “the week’s winner in Class III, children and animals.” (I’m sure my grandpa was crafty enough to realize that children plus animals would be a sure-fire winner.)

Although my grandfather’s yard on Hope Street bordered no body of water that I know of, turtles could occasionally be found wandering through.

There exists, in the family archives, a picture (taken roughly a quarter-century after this one) of an endearingly alarmed young me shoving my dad away as he tries to introduce me to a Hope Street yard-turtle.

But I digress.

From the Aug. 11, 1956, edition, here we have an “amusing and unusual” picture that won the top award in Class II. Not sure what Class II was — feet, maybe? Saddle shoes?

I like the dry, boring old-school newspaper photo headline: “Ankle View Tells The Story.” I would have opted for “Two Feet of Water” myself. Or maybe “Standing Water”?

Perhaps the apex of my grandpa’s amateur photography career. From the Aug. 31, 1957, Advocate. This ghostly shot won my grandpa first prize out of 16 “Best in Class” winners over four weeks of contests. For his efforts, he won $25 and a first-place ribbon.

And finally, from the Aug. 30, 1952, Advocate, we have the famous faked girl-by-window shot, which won my grandfather second place in the overall photo contest (presumably it won in some earlier category):

The Advocate was kind enough to run a story about that year’s winners, from which we learn the following about my grandpa:

Mr. Blumenau made the picture with a standard Rolleiflex camera, which is what he uses for all his work. He has been taking pictures for about 15 years and started originally with a smaller camera, graduating to the Rollei as he became more interested in his hobby.

The pensive young lady in the picture is Mr. Blumenau’s daughter, Elaine, who posed for the shot at her daddy’s direction. Mr. Blumenau does his own developing and printing, but has no darkroom at present. He plans to build one in his basement eventually, but at present is a little too busy raising a family. He is not a member of a camera club, but once belonged to the well-known Springfield Pictorialists, a group of enthusiastic amateur photographers who meet in Springfield, Mass.

Mr. Blumenau is a machine design draftsman. What he knows about picture making he has picked up on his own, through reading and actually taking and developing pictures. Judging from the fine results he gets, his method must have merit!

The self-trained lone wolf of family photography (at center) receives his award.

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It’s my birthday, and I’ll blog if I want to.

This weekend, I destroyed some history. And it felt pretty good.

Heresy, I know, given that the whole point of this blog is preserving history — or, at least, using it as a jumping-off point for essays and commentary. But my grandpa didn’t save everything that passed through his hands, and neither will I.

My wife and I were both in the newspaper business for a bunch of years, and we have a couple boxes of old papers sitting in the basement.

I got the itch to clean out my clips, knowing I’d saved a bunch of stories that seemed important to me in 1999 but didn’t matter now.

So I went through and weeded out a good-sized stack of papers whose contents are not worth the space they take up in my basement. And now they’re headed out to the garage, where I will use them to fire up my chimney starter whenever I feel like grilling.

"There's nothing older than yesterday's news." - Ed Brennen

There are stories in this stack I wrote about bank heists, and Special Town Meetings, and wildfires on the Appalachian Trail (still the only time I’ve ever been on the trail), and the relative popularity of lamb vs. ham for Easter dinner, and sewage (I wrote a lot of stories about sewers and sewage in Massachusetts), and piping plover nests, and dozens of other topics.

Can’t say I remembered writing every single one, but cumulatively, they took me back 10 or 15 years.

I suppose that my future grandchildren or great-grandchildren might be interested in reading the stories I wrote as a view into my life and times, just as I find it interesting to look at my grandpa’s calendars. (Someone might first have to explain to my descendants what a “newspaper” was.)

But I’m not gonna hoard things for posterity. If you save everything you touch or produce, then some future generation won’t be able to move or breathe under the weight of all the stuff they’ve been handed down.

Plus, it pains me to admit that a lot of my writing was either deadly boring, or self-consciously clever — and, to paraphrase Ed Brennen, there’s nothing older than yesterday’s clever.

Consider this lede, from a 1998 story about increased competition in the microbrew business:

“There’s a battle brewing on the shelves of your local package store, and only the stout will survive.”

Oh, God.

And then there was a weekly column I used to write about commercial real estate transactions. I got so insanely bored with it that I used to write it in a different style every week. Once it was in haiku; another week it was a Papa Hemingway pastiche; another week it was Dashiell Hammett.  (“She was a blonde, the kind of blonde I thought only existed in architectural renderings.”)

Amused me no end at the time. But a decade-plus later, all I can think about are the readers who had to wade through my sophomoric jive to get the information they wanted … and the ones who got tired of the effort and tuned me out altogether.

I’ve still got a few stories saved that were especially significant, or that made me smile. But most of my old clips, even to a history buff like me, are best used to get my grill going.

Burgers, anyone?

******

July 4, 2011.

The text for last night’s barbecue was the Aug. 9, 1995, issue of the Duxbury, Mass., Reporter.

The lead story had something to do with a townwide open space committee. (In small towns, actual summertime news is harder to find than beachfront parking spaces.)

Holding a glass of Bethlehem’s finest bitter, I toasted my memories from that long-ago summer as part of them went up in smoke.

We destroy ourselves in order to live and thrive.

The burgers were delicious.

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We’ve featured 1974 a number of times in the first two months of this blog. Don’t worry — the geographic span of our entries will even out over time. As always, check out the About page if you’re new here and don’t know what we’re going on about.

Not too long ago, we held forth on the ever-increasing price of gasoline.

This week, we pick another calendar entry — from the same year — that shows the price of yet another commonplace household good going inexorably higher.

The difference between this product and gasoline is that Americans, by and large, have decided they can live without it.

June 10, 1974

My grandfather’s hoard of historical newspapers includes a number of New York Daily News editions, alongside the hometown Stamford Advocate.

I don’t believe he took both papers every day. (If he had subscribed to the Daily News, he wouldn’t have been so focused on its newsstand price.) But clearly he bought the Daily News often enough to want to make a special note to himself when its cost went up.

In a town with ready access to all the New York papers, why would he choose that particular one?

The Daily News, launched this month in 1919, advertised itself as “NEW YORK’S PICTURE NEWSPAPER” for more than 70 years. I’ve always thought that my grandfather, an avid amateur photographer, would have been drawn to a paper that put such a premium on images. (Since 1991, the Daily News’ slogan has been the much less grabby “New York’s Hometown Newspaper,” though it continues to use a stylized image of an old Speed Graphic camera as its logo.)

He might also have developed a taste for the Daily News in the era when it was the USA Today of its day — in terms of popularity, not content. In the 1940s and ’50s, the paper boasted a daily circulation of more than 2 million, making it the biggest newspaper in the country. The paper’s daily circulation today is somewhere around 515,000 copies, ranking it as America’s sixth-largest paper.

And maybe my grandfather liked the Everyman tone of the Daily News, which at its best has been one of America’s great tabloid papers. Two years after this calendar entry, Billy Joel would name-drop the paper in his song “New York State of Mind” — “But now I need a little give-and-take / The New York Times / The Daily News” — deftly summing up the contrast between the institutional paper-of-record tone of the Good Gray Lady and the feistier, from-the-streets approach of the Picture Newspaper.

Today’s New York Daily News has a newsstand price of 75 cents. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ handy inflation calculator says 15 cents in 1974 would have the purchasing power of 68 cents today. So, New York’s Hometown/Picture Newspaper is yet another example of a consumer good whose price increases have outpaced inflation.

Of course, the determination of a newspaper’s worth is based on much more than the amount of change you have to fish out to buy it.

Does the 2011 Daily News contain as much actual news as it did in 1974? How has its political slant changed from then to now? How about its editorial priorities, in terms of the stories it covers and the play it gives them? How about its quality control? The answers to at least some of these questions will vary from reader to reader, which makes judging the value of a newspaper over the years considerably harder than, say, judging the value of a bag of potato chips.

What’s indisputable is that Americans have decided that all newspapers aren’t worth as much to them as they were in my grandfather’s day. The daily circulations of major papers like the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe have fallen by practically half over the past 20 years. (I won’t get into why circ has declined so much, because an analysis of the issue would more than fill this blog. Maybe some other entry.)

When circulation declines, ad revenue drops, since advertisers aren’t reaching as many people. When ad revenue drops, cutbacks in staff and coverage follow, since ads cover the cost of putting reporters and photographers on the street. And when staffing and coverage get cut back, circulation declines — again.

A journalism professor I interviewed in my days as a reporter described that pattern as a “death spiral.” And while America’s major papers aren’t dropping like flies, they will never regain anything resembling good health until they figure out how to break out of it.

None of that, of course, was visible or predictable in the summer of 1974, when my grandfather found himself digging deep for another nickel to get the news and pictures from New York.

As for summer sizzlers and record heat, we’ll be talking more on that subject in about a month. And no, I have no idea why my aunt went to tha Dirty Jerz for the day.

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