Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Times They Are a-Changin'
November 30, 2012 8:24 AM   Subscribe

In 1962, fifty years ago this month, striking union printers shut down four New York City newspapers in resistance to computerized, automated technologies that were being introduced in newsrooms across the country. Five other area papers shut down voluntarily. The strike lasted 114 days and sounded the death knell for four newspapers. For a brief period, New York was a laboratory that demonstrated what can happen when newspapers vanish. Today, new technology is again shaking American newspapers as the Internet drains away more and more advertising revenue. Is this The Long Good Bye?

Additional Reading

The New York City strike was bookended by lengthy, expensive strikes in other cities, including a 117-day Minneapolis strike in 1962, a 129-day Cleveland strike of 1962-1963, and a 134-day Detroit strike in 1964.

Slate / 2009: Life After Newspapers: Learning from the 1962-63 New York newspaper strike

Canadian Journal of Communication / 2006: "Labor's Monkey Wrench": Newsweekly Coverage of the 1962-63 New York Newspaper Strike

New York Times archive / 1992: Seeds of a Newspaper Struggle. "The root of Mortimer B. Zuckerman's current problems in trying to take over The Daily News go back to a 114-day newspaper strike that began 30 years ago this morning."

Wikipedia on the strike.

Washington Post obituary / 2006: Bert Powers; Typographers Union President Led Months-Long Strike." "The bow-tie-sporting Mr. Powers, once described by a New York Times labor reporter as "honest, clean, democratic -- and impossible," was elected president of the New York Typographical Union No. 6 in 1961."
posted by zarq (25 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
In the future, everything will be free but no-one will have a job.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:29 AM on November 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


In the future, everything will be free but no-one will have a job.

Sock puppet for obvious reasons: I fully anticipate that rich assholes will still pay me to write the PhDs they can't be bothered to do.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 8:36 AM on November 30, 2012


At some point I'll probably be able to reliably farm it out to ex-journalists, too.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 8:38 AM on November 30, 2012


In the future, everything will be free but no-one will have a job.

You mean and no-one will have a job. Feature, not bug. We only have jobs because we need money; otherwise we'd just have hobbies.
posted by davejay at 8:49 AM on November 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I find the idea of a morning without a paper very sad, but my local paper just keeps getting thinner and thinner...
posted by madajb at 9:07 AM on November 30, 2012


You mean and no-one will have a job. Feature, not bug. We only have jobs because we need money; otherwise we'd just have hobbies.

We just to figure out how to pirate or otherwise obtain free housing, utilities and food, and then everything's golden.
posted by rewil at 9:17 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


A fragmented, union-free journalistic landscape—shorn of printing presses and ink and paper, and containing millions of Web sites—could turn out to be more inclusive and exhilarating than what existed in the newspaper-saturated 1960s.

Or it could look like the contextless 4chan, opinion driven, policy as talking head entertainment, "both side," plagiarism/fabrication and snark-o-rama we have now, but more so.

discovered that New York seemed a more normal and placid place without the daily barrage of blazing headlines from Hearst, the rumored gangland shooting in the News, the threatening international strife in the Times.

I've always wondered why I can learn about what 20 different doofuses (doofi?) think about what Barack Obama had for breakfast more easily than I can about what happened at my city council meeting last night.

It's not so much the technology. It seems like the advertising has taken over. Not that this is a new state of affairs, but people seem to have mistaken it for news.

There's this basic lack of interest in actual information that one can use.

Perhaps it's been a long and slow enough learning curve that people genuinely believe that what happens to Lindsay Lohan is more important to their lives than policy changes that affect their local property tax.

I don't know why it is that way. But opinions are far more cherished than actual information. And if you have actual information that conflicts with the opinion someone likes odds are they'll attack you as having a bias.
"I believe it's 250 degrees on top of Mt. Everest."
"I just climbed it last year. It's not hot. You can get frostbite in the death zone."
"You're only saying that because you're a tool of the (whatever/politics)."

I think that behavior is learned though. And the media with the widest audience in almost any medium is advertising.
I know rhetoric has long been prized. But man, it was never this easy to be awash in it with our mental landscape so devoid of, not even "truth" but simply relevant information.

It wasn't possible in the 60s to simply drown out useful information or make people believe something is relevant when it's not.
Reminds me of "Second Variety" by PK Dick where the sophistication (of killer robots in this case) is such that not only can you not tell an actual person from a robot, but since they're killing each other too, there's no practical difference.

So too my beliefs are not meant to be predicated on my genuine needs, but my associated identity. Which is subject to manufacture in the first place.

It kills me to argue with people who say they're anti-government and anti-tax while we're standing in the library. Is their position derived from their needs? Do they genuinely hate checking out books for their kids? Or maybe are they told this stuff so much their disconnected from living their own lives.

I dunno. Maybe something about having the paper in your hand. Ownership of the information. The fact that it's immutable as opposed to something that is not really in your hands and can be revised instantly online. Maybe that changes one's conceptual framework of dealing with - even wrong - information.

That aside.

Inherent in these pieces seems to be the notion that unions are anti-technology. I have no idea. Reminds me of the (probably apocryphal) story of Hero's steam engine. When Hero presented the steam engine to a Greek king as a labor saving device in the first century the king said "But what will we do with all the slaves?"
posted by Smedleyman at 9:30 AM on November 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


We just to figure out how to pirate or otherwise obtain free housing, utilities and food, and then everything's golden.
posted by rewil at 9:17 AM on November 30 [+] [!]


All of those are relatively free. At least relative to the past. it only takes an hour of my labor to feed myself for a week. I'm guessing that 100 years ago at least half of the pay of my labor went towards weekly food consumption.
posted by otto42 at 9:35 AM on November 30, 2012


In exactly one month my beloved local daily paper is going to 3X weekly paper publication with all other days available to me only online. I knew this was coming. I've been bracing for it for a long time. But it still breaks my heart.

There was always something so civilized about enjoying my morning paper with my breakfast. Nothing electronic to deal with, nothing to plug in or turn on, just peace and quiet other than the tick of the clock and the rustle of those lovely pages.

Also, it'll be a bit tougher to line my parrot's cage after January 1st.
posted by kinnakeet at 9:38 AM on November 30, 2012


But in order to keep the book business alive through reviews, this was the beginning of the still-running New York Review of Books, the home of very fine writing and leftist views of the life.
posted by Postroad at 9:46 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love my morning papers -- the Seattle Times, the NY Times, the WSJ, and the Washington Post, all of which I read on my Ipad. I give my Times and WSJ to my employee each weekday AM as there seems to be no way to persuade those companies to only deliver their papers to me electronically. I don't miss the bulkiness of newspapers, the piles of recycling, or the newsprint on my hands.

But . . .

my fear is that the electronic delivery model won't be profitable enough to maintain the impressive reporters and editors who make these papers so great. We really will have no idea what is going on in our world if we are confined to the news deserts of cable or the stripped down news services of ABC, CBS and NBC.
posted by bearwife at 9:47 AM on November 30, 2012


Which electronic delivery model do you mean? The kind that comes in batches like olden newspapers, or the kind that comes the second after the event? Surely there's still a paying market for the latter--Bloomberg made it work before the internet as we know it. The former, well... eBook sales are actually pretty brisk... but does anyone much care for the midrange model, of quick news that isn't really instantaneous? I dunno.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:14 AM on November 30, 2012


STOP THE PRESSES!!!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:20 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


...but does anyone much care for the midrange model, of quick news that isn't really instantaneous? I dunno.

I do. I really don't want to waste time with minute-by-minute breaking stories or the latest cable news obsession, but I still want to keep relatively informed.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:36 AM on November 30, 2012


I work in newspapers but every time (as I'm walking the dog) I see a wet, bagged newspaper sitting in a driveway on a rainy morning I think: Who wants to deal with that anymore? People will stay dry and read it online; it's a no-brainer, except for those of us still dependent upon (falling) ad revenue to pay our (frozen) salaries.
posted by kgasmart at 10:36 AM on November 30, 2012


I still get the WSJ every morning, mostly because I like the newspaper-in-the-morning ritual and I can pay for it using my dragon hoard of airline miles. I'm in a shrinking minority, though, nad everyone's seen that coming for a long time.

The real kick in the nads for the newspaper industry is that just as everyone thought they might be adjusting to web publishing, mobile has spiked -- especially for news consumption. For years, the joke was that print dollars became web nickels in terms of advertising revenue, but the new addendum is that they're having to learn to survive on mobile pennies. The revenues for traditional advertising models just aren't there on mobile, and it's terrifying.

The Atlantic Monthly (admittedly, not a straight-up newspaper) is one of the few that's turned things around and is growing revenues through their digital work, but they came from a really grim place and made a lot of 'nothing left to lose' gambles with their print publication. NPR doesn't do print, but they underwent a similar deliberate shift and sunk a lot of time and money into building a digital infrastructure. They're now in a much better position because they treat their different content channels as ways of presenting and delivering their core product -- engaging stories -- rather than 'transcripts of radio segments.'

The investments those two organizations made have paid off, and I think folks are going to be looking to them for insights a lot in the coming couple of years. Simply shifting to iPad magazines and the like is farrrrr from a sure thing for existing publications.
posted by verb at 10:47 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


: "Which electronic delivery model do you mean? The kind that comes in batches like olden newspapers, or the kind that comes the second after the event? Surely there's still a paying market for the latter--Bloomberg made it work before the internet as we know it. The former, well... eBook sales are actually pretty brisk... but does anyone much care for the midrange model, of quick news that isn't really instantaneous? I dunno."

The batch kind like olden newspapers and magazines. I can pick up breaking news in other ways -- twitter, news aggregators, websites.
posted by bearwife at 11:33 AM on November 30, 2012


We just to figure out how to pirate or otherwise obtain free housing, utilities and food, and then everything's golden.

Well, "everything will be free" means everything will be free, right? If we're just arguing "information will be free", that's a whole 'nother thing.
posted by davejay at 11:40 AM on November 30, 2012


The huge problem that newspapers face isn't the death of newsprint, it's that advertisers won't pay for online advertising. Eliminate newsprint and move newspapers online, and papers would save (a lot of) money. The problem is that ad rates for online ads are about a third what you can charge for print, mostly because of (very stupid) measurements used for online effectiveness.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:44 AM on November 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I kept up my subscription to one of my local dailies for years after I was mostly reading it online just so that I could support them. Finally I got tired to recycling unread papers and cancelled it. We have two local newspapers but one of them is owned and propped up by a right-wing millionaire who uses it to push his agenda so I'd really like to see the other independent one survive but I still can't bring myself to get the physical paper delivered.
posted by octothorpe at 12:24 PM on November 30, 2012


Well, "everything will be free" means everything will be free, right? If we're just arguing "information will be free", that's a whole 'nother thing.

That'd be wonderful. I'm just really lacking in optimism right now, still in a post-newspaper-career hangover.
posted by rewil at 12:40 PM on November 30, 2012


I've always wondered why I can learn about what 20 different doofuses (doofi?) think about what Barack Obama had for breakfast more easily than I can about what happened at my city council meeting last night.

Oh this! Everyone is so wrapt up in the National politics. Meanwhile my town council fritters away money on all sorts of Pie-in-the-sky schemes that don't go anywhere but it never has to face the wrath of the tax payers because town council activities go unreported. We have two weekly rags that publish baseball scores and human interest stories, but nary a word about the tens of thousands of dollars spent monthly to maintain the Con Agra property deeded to the town after the Slim Jim factory blew up or the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to buy up homes on Main Street in order to tear them down. I only know about this stuff because I am friends with some town employees.

After every outrageous scheme ($100,000 spent on a report that advised the town council the town needed more expensive homes so that the tax base would yield more money) I think, "Surely this...." But at the last council election the two challengers lost. The town councilmen do whatever the hell they want and no one notices or cares. I can't help but think that some honest to god journalism would uncover some malfeasance or at least some incompetence but local politics are not interesting to most people so it would be difficult to make a living out of it.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 12:41 PM on November 30, 2012


Wow. "The New York Daily Mirror ...featured...the syndicated labor columnist Victor Riesel, blinded by an acid attack outside Lindy's restaurant in 1956."

I'd never heard of Riesel before. Quite the class warfare going on in the fifties and sixties, and it isn't surprising that Tom Wolfe once again sided and still sides with those controlling the capital.

My father's uncles took part in the printer strike. In high school at the time, my father blames his uncles for putting themselves out of a job and he hates unions in general because of it.
posted by GregorWill at 1:25 PM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh this! Everyone is so wrapt up in the National politics. Meanwhile my town council fritters away money on all sorts of Pie-in-the-sky schemes that don't go anywhere but it never has to face the wrath of the tax payers because town council activities go unreporte

I have on occasion expressed this same viewpoint to the publisher/owner/guy on the masthead of my local paper.
That the future is local news and he could probably do better by eliminating the entire "A" section of the paper and expanding the 'B' city/region section.
People can read about Israel anywhere, but the only place reporting on the Public Works strike are the local outlets.

In between polite head-nods, he did express the idea that the newspaper reading population is aging, and generally gets hyper-upset if you change a comic strip, let alone change the focus of the paper entirely.
Which is all well and good, but hitching your wagon to a subset of readers guaranteed to decrease seems a horrible business plan.

They have made some changes in an effort to modernize and change their cost model, but I wonder if it will be enough.
posted by madajb at 1:39 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Parchment happens.
posted by Twang at 3:03 PM on November 30, 2012


« Older 'It's probably easy today to dismiss Negativland's...   |   It could grip it by the husk. ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments