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A salute to the fallen flags of newspapers
Thirty years ago this week, the Cleveland Press folded. It wasn't the first good, old paper to go, nor the last.
by WKSU's PAUL GASTON


Commentator
Paul Gaston
 
One of the grand old papers folded 30 years ago this week: The Cleveland Press.
Courtesy of Cleveland State archives
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The good news these days is that many major newspapers have turned it around. Circulation is up, ad revenues have increased, and the expansion into digital information is beginning to show a profit.

Many. But not all.

One of the institutions that brought New Orleans through the aftermath of Katrina – the Times Picayune – is heading for three days a week. The Philadelphia newspapers just sold for a tenth the price of six years ago.

And WKSU commentator Paul Gaston can still hear the echo of proud papers that have been silent much longer.

Gaston: tribute to the "fallen flags" of newpapering

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There was a poetry, a cadence about them--the flags of major newspapers whose presses have long been silent.

The flag.

That’s the journalists’ name, by the way, for the newspaper’s name printed, usually, at the top of the front page.

In New York, in the early nineteen sixties, I once bought all seven major Sunday papers, spread them out in my hotel room, and marveled at what awaited me. I’ll mention four. The rhythmic World-Telegram and Sun--three names in one. The Herald-Tribune, which competed with the Times in seriousness of purpose and breadth of international coverage. The Journal-American, Hearst’s full-size paper, and the New York Daily Mirror, the Hearst tabloid.

The one hundred fourteen day newspaper strike that lasted from nineteen sixty-two until nineteen sixty-three was the death knell for the Mirror and a premonition for the others. By nineteen sixty-six all those I have mentioned were gone.

Of course, far more was lost than resonant newspaper names. Newsgathering competition was at its fiercest then. Every day in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Washington, a reporter could jump start a career by beating the competition. The stress must have been considerable for the reporters seeking a scoop, but the rewards for the readers were terrific. It wasn’t just the news columns that competed. Editorial writers developed distinctive voices. Columnists became prominent personalities.

They wrote for their readers, and they wrote for one another. Even designers got in on the competition. When the Herald-Tribune showed off its fresh and deservedly influential approach to display type and page make-up, the handwriting was already on the wall for that paper, but newspaper design would never be the same.

 The story of fallen flags is a national story, of course. Chicagoans once read Chicago’s American--that possessive apostrophe making a claim to the paper’s deep roots in the Loop. Washingtonians read the Star in the afternoon, New Orleanians read the States-Item, Dallasites read the Times-Herald.

In most cities, afternoon papers like these were the first to go. As lifestyles changed, there seemed to be less and less of an inclination to sit on the porch with the afternoon paper. And as traffic around the big cities became more congested, just getting an afternoon paper delivered on time became a headache. In a few cities, like St. Louis, the afternoon paper prevailed, but it did so by switching to the morning and going head to head with its competition. So good-bye, Globe Democrat, one of the most Republican of newspapers.

I won’t bore you by reciting more such names. There are a lot out there--including the Cleveland Press – which folded 30 years ago this Saturday -- and the Cleveland News.

But I have to mention my favorite fallen flag, the one created by the sixties merger of the Chattanooga News and the Chattanooga Free Press. For nearly 30 years, in addition to the morning Chattanooga Times, the city was served by--I'm not kidding--the News-Free Press. 

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