Friday, 11 July 2008

All the News That Fits


I emerged from the Farragut North Metro yesterday morning and collided with a metaphor. A man and a woman were hunched over the newspaper street racks at the corner of Connecticut and L NW. They were scraping the names of newspapers from the brown metal vending machines.

The Financial Times had already come off. The Miami Herald had been reduced to "Miam" and the Richmond Times Dispatch was disappearing, one letter at a time. Those papers, I was told, had decided not to vend from the street racks anymore. Some, like the Financial Times, you could still get by subscription and at news stands. Others might be harder to get in D.C.

Street boxes in Washington for out of town newspapers have always been a bit of a vanity exercise. Surely it costs more than 75 cents for the Miami Herald or Los Angeles Times to wind up in downtown Washington. But if you worked for those papers you felt a little frisson every time you walked past. Of course, Washington bureaus are being decimated so there's just as little chance of an LA or Miami staffer walking past as there is of a Washingtonian fingering three quarters and saying, "You know what I need this morning? News from Miami." He can get it for free on the web now.

They weren't scraping off all the names. A few newspapers remained--and those free real estate books. And The Washington Post and the Washington Times still have their own separate street racks. But the impressively huge monster rack was being whittled away from the inside. (There's another metaphor!) What will be done with it when it's empty, and when all the other street racks--with their signature message: "Use any combination of coins," and their unspoken "take no more than one paper" honor code--are no longer needed?

Dump them in the ocean, I guess, an artificial reef for the fishes. If there are any fishes left, that is....

11 comments:

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

The end of an era...

mark from alexandria said...

As we leave the era of fact-based journalism behind, I guess this is to be expected.

Sarah Laurence said...

We've been mostly paper free in England, and I just don't read as much of the paper on line as I do in hand. When we get home, we'll go back to having 2 newspapers delivered. Sorry, trees!

Good to see you posting again, John, but I miss the gargoyles. Bet they are spitting today. It's pouring here in Oxford. The weather has been awful this week.

We're finally packed and leave the house tomorrow. I felt sad posting the last time from Oxford, but you show a blog can continue back in the USA.

Ken said...

Did you have post-Oxford blues? thank god you're back - i thought you'd joined glenda cooper in the post-blogosphere.

get on with it, Glenda!

Glenda Cooper said...

I take your point Kenneth and will rectify the situation. Just been a rather frantic few weeks. No excuse however...

Henry said...

When I first visited the US I was very surprised by the level of trust the newspapers had that people weren't going to half-inch more than one paper once they'd got the door open. So maybe that's a good sign that most readers are honest and will pay for good content on the internet even if they could find ways not to.
Then again, maybe your medium is dying.

(ps Ken - speaking of post-Oxford blues, did I ever mention that I was "Oxford Blues?)

John Kelly said...

Glenda, don't let Ken push you around. I happen to know he wouldn't blog if you held a loaded gun to his head, which I've done.

Sarah, good luck on your move. Just click your heels together and keep repeating "There's no place like hom, there's no place like home..."

Henry, the American Film Institute is just down the street from us. They're currently having an 80s bratpack film festival. Tonight: "The Breakfast Club." Sadly, "Oxford Blues" is not among the offerings, a tragic oversight.

SC & MFA: The end of one era, perhaps, but the beginning of another. Stay tuned!

Old Lady said...

I will indeed stay tuned....I've tuned in every day since your last post and am glad to see you here at Voxford again, at last!

mark not from alexandria said...

John, seems like this could have prompted some calls to Borders, the Newsroom, etc., to see how the out-of-town newspaper business is doing more generally.

Umm, since you need ideas for articles...

John Kelly said...

@MnfA: You're right. A proper journalist would have done that. Maybe I will for when my column restarts. Right now, I'm gathering material for an August relaunch, after Alice Reid has finished this year's Send a Kid to Camp campaign. Don't forget, your donations are welcome:
Send a Kid to Camp

Candadai Tirumalai said...

Henry is quite right that most people are honest with newspaper-vending machines. But not long ago I did see a bold sign on top of one in D.C. reading, "There is a thief at work." Had never seeen one before nor since.