Friday, June 24, 2016

Extra Paper, Read All About It

Those films with the newsboy shouting are gone forever and how I miss them. The hard-boiled reporter, soft-boiled sucker and the rotten eggs in City Hall. The editor chomped on a cigar, the newsman chained smoked and the publisher upstairs puffed his pipe. I miss all the clich├ęs… the deadline and the scoop. Stop the presses. Get me the city desk on line two. Where the Trib reporter gets the low-down from his snitch to beat the Post on the other side of town.

In, His Girl Friday (1940), fast-talking and conniving Cary Grant not only beats the deadline for the headline but wins over Rosalind Russell, with moxie to spare, from milquetoast Ralph Bellamy, the ultimate second banana.

Newsman Jimmy Stewart doggedly pursues the truth to free Richard Conte from jail in, Call Northside 777 (1948).

Fast-forward 28 years to, All the President’s Men, where Redford and Hoffman become Woodward and Bernstein to reveal Nixon’s dirty deeds thanks to Deep Throat. Investigative journalism turned from zany comedy to real life expose of the imperial presidency.

A more current cover-up was probed, not by a newspaper, but a team of Sixty Minute T.V. investigators led by Dan Rather. On the verge of revealing Dubya as an incompetent draft-dodger during the Viet Nam war Rather and his producer were shown the front door. Score one for corporate America defending its stooge.

The genre is gone because newspapers are on life-support. What was once an essential public trust is slowly becoming a second banana, some vestigial artifact of the last century.

Yet I can’t imagine a morning without my paper. Not to say that I read it all but I like the clutter of it, the way it takes its place in the still-life of our table. If it only arrived yesterday it would be fresh.

How emaciated it looks, poor thing. Many sections have been folded into one or vanished altogether. Department stores have largely departed with their full-page ads depriving the paper of its heft. Doesn’t anyone buy sofas anymore…washing machines, T.Vs, mattresses? Having reached the age when we are done with travel, happy with our couch, our car and appliances I’m OK with the morning paper having little to bulk it up.

I suppose those big ticket items warrant their own section in slick color. They must be the pages I immediately throw away along with market coupons.

In fact the real reason for buying the paper, particularly the Sunday edition, is the joy of sorting. Living as we do in a sea of glut I cherished the illusion of separating the essential from all the rest. It’s almost like weeding out your junk drawer… long-expired coupons, dried-up pens, single shoe laces. The detritus of our lives.

None of this shows any promise of making it to the big screen. There’s no snappy dialog dividing the newspaper into two piles and then carrying one to the recycling bin.

Of course we need investigative reporters more than ever but they can do it for on-line papers like Slate or Huffington Post. I suspect subscribers like me will continue to dwindle until we meet underground once a week watching old movies with the faint odor of newsprint still in our lungs.

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