As we observe the current crisis in American newspapering — some of us from the inside — it might be worth a moment to reflect on continuity as well as change. Here’s a passage that Fred Grimm wrote for the Miami Herald in 1989, which turned up in my notes over the weekend:
Pronouncing a big city newspaper in turmoil is about like declaring a bad day in Beirut. Newsrooms just naturally seethe.
Reporters are beleaguered, underpaid champions of truth and justice with the clamoring personalities of children. Editors are mean and generally ugly. Columnists have elephantine egos and are paid astounding salaries to reminisce about family pets and dead politicians.
Someone within this volatile formula can always be found who is critical, angry and threatening homicide, or, worse, to pack up his talent in three large Mayflower moving vans and defect to the opposition paper.
Most places don’t have that opposition paper any longer, though all newspapers have opposition from other media. Apart from that, things in the newsroom, as in Beirut, remain about what we have come to expect.