The newspaper wagon was almost a goner.
For years, the antique wooden The Plain Dealer newspaper delivery wagon with the wobbly metal wheels and fading white paint sat prominently in our house. A fellow reporter at The Plain Dealer gave it to me. She had turned it into a coffee table by adding a glass top. We tucked under that glass newspaper headlines that jolted our world:
“OBAMA TAKES OATH, AND NATION IN CRISIS EMBRACES THE MOMENT” The New York Times screamed in 2009.
“BELIEVE IT! THE CAVALIERS ARE NBA CHAMPIONS” The Plain Dealer boasted in 2016.
“TERROR HITS HOME” announced the attack of Sept. 11.
That wagon became a conversation piece until we moved in June. The wagon ended up in the garage. Was it time to retire it?
Then the news hit. Over and over. And each time it felt like democracy itself took a hit.
Starbucks announced it would no longer sell newspapers because of low sales.
The Newseum, the main museum dedicated to journalism and our First Amendment, announced it is closing this year.
The Youngstown Vindicator is shutting down after celebrating 150 years in business. The last paper will be printed Aug. 31. As NPR pointed out, the closing will make Youngstown “the largest city in the nation without a major newspaper.”
Those 65,000 people in Youngstown deserve a watchdog. The Vindicator helped clean up the city, reporting on corruption that helped kick Jim Traficant out of Congress and into prison for bribery and racketeering.
But over the years, circulation dropped from 100,000 readers a day in the 1970s to about 25,000. The paper tried to find a buyer but couldn’t.
Youngstown was hit hard when General Motors announced it was closing the Lordstown operation that once employed 14,000 people, more than the entire population of the town I grew up in. No more churning out Chevy Cruzes.
I’m glad my old hometown still has a newspaper. I credit my dad for my love of newspapers. He was a sheet metal worker who dropped out of school in eighth grade to support his family. He had no time for books, but never missed that daily paper. We ended up glued to it, too. We grew up learning who got married and died and was in the hospital by reading the Record-Courier.
I’ve been a journalist since 1986, writing first for the Daily Kent Stater, then the Lorain Journal, The Akron Beacon Journal, The Plain Dealer and now for the Cleveland Jewish News. At every paper, our core mission was the same: To disturb the comfortable and to comfort the disturbed.
Newspapers chronicle history. We tell the story of the dash, that space between the birth and the death of people big and small. We stand guard at council meetings and zoning board meetings and school board meetings, reporting how elected officials spent or misspent your hard-earned dollars.
We question authority every time we write about cops, courts and corruption.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman once said he’s either in the heating or lighting business. Everything he writes must either shine a light or turn up the heat on an issue. We need that light, and that heat, to protect and preserve our Constitution, which holds this country together.
So what happened to newspapers? Life changed. Newspapers made money through subscriptions, commercial ads and classified ads. The internet, not disgruntled readers, left too many newspapers on life support. The internet lured away the advertising dollars. Why pay for an ad when you can sell something for free on Craigslist? Why pay for personal ads, real estate ads or car ads that offer mere words when you can go on online and see photos and videos of that person you want to date, that home you want to own, that car you want to drive?
And why wait 24 hours to read a story you get news instantly in a tweet, blog or Facebook post?
Why? Because real journalism matters, the kind with editors and a copy desk and gatekeepers who double check facts before they print them. That’s why we still get a print version of The Plain Dealer, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sun Press and Cleveland Jewish News delivered to our home.
That newspaper wagon will stay in our family room, where our grandkids will scan the old headlines and see us reading new ones.
It will stay, even if the headlines one day announce that newsprint is dead.