The Pueblo Chieftain copy desk, as photographed Feb. 15, 1984, by John Jaques (left to right, and oddly in order of departure from the Chieftain): Ken Noblit, Patrick “Mad Dog” O’Grady, Eric McFail, and myself. The bell was a fixture on the copy desk for a while and would be struck with a resounding gong whenever anyone made an error, missed an error or cracked a bad joke. It drove the rest of the newsroom to the same level of insanity as those who worked on the copy desk.
The demise of the American newspaper is an interesting lesson in economics. Often we hear the complaint that American workers don’t actually make anything anymore. This is not true of newspaper workers who make something every day. In fact, they make something new every day.
These workers are reporters and photographers who gather the news, the editors who check their work, the graphics designers who present it, advertising sales representatives who work with their customers to create messages to sell goods and services; the various production and press personnel who get all of this stuff onto plates and eventually on newsprint. All work in a synchronized dynamic assembly line of sorts to create a product that — although it appears under the same nameplate each day — is unique to that day it is published.
If you’ve ever been involved in this process you realize that each day is truly something of a miracle. But now newspapers in communities all over the country are announcing huge debts, layoffs and impending closure. Unfortunately, like the auto industry, a failure to embrace technology, adapt and change is sending the American newspaper the way of all those other fine goods that were “Made in America.”