It’s a sad time for newspapers, sure, and sure, it’s not something I’m happy about. I like to read things on paper – and not just for nostalgia reasons. If I’m holding a physical paper in my hand I read it all, and so I learn a little more. If I’m reading news on-line I just don’t do that. C’est la vie, I guess…I’m not the type to complain really. As with anything, I can’t help but try to put things in perspective; there was a time (a lot of time) when newspapers as we know them didn’t exist; they’ll be a time to come when newspapers as we know them won’t exist either. I can live with that, I guess. I guess I could even live with no more real books (I mean what would I do, kill myself?) Though one question: can we stop saying that e-books and Kindles and i-Pads and things are more friendly for the environment? I mean aren’t these gadgets made out of plastic and don’t they run on power, and aren’t they designed to be obsolete a couple years from now? Books are made out of trees – which are things that grow – which means if you do it right they’re a limitless resource. Honestly, am I wrong about this people? Maybe I’m wrong about this, people.
I know another argument against the loss of newspapers is the loss of good reporting. And I’m totally behind that idea. Was reporting much better back in the days of multiple daily papers competing in every city? I couldn’t say (I mean I guess I could, if I really studied it). But if you read a bit of New York City history you inevitably come across the name of all these papers that are now gone: The World, The Sun, The Tribune, The Herald, The New York Journal, just to name a few of the more famous. I was reminded of them in writing on Richard Morris Hunt last time around, and his Tribune Building specifically, on Printing House Square at Nassau & Spruce Streets – one of the earliest high-rise elevator buildings in the city (and now demolished). It housed the headquarters of The Tribune and went up in 1875. Fifteen years later in 1890 the New York World Building was finished nearby (after its earlier headquarters burned down in 1882 – on the site of today’s Potter Building) – sometimes called the Pulitzer Building as well for The World’s owner, Joseph Pulitzer. Just one year before the new World Building the New York Times Building (1889) was finished, also next door, and also – like the World building – designed by the architect George B. Post. The whole area running down Park Row was nicknamed “Newspaper Row” – back when close proximity to City Hall was a real asset for the industry.
The New York Times Building is the only one of the three that still stands, though today it’s owned by Pace University. The Times didn’t stay in the building for very long to begin with; in 1903 they moved uptown to Longacre Square: one year later re-named Times Square by proclamation of mayor George B. McClellan Jr. (after heavy lobbying by Times owner Adolph Ochs). Ochs purchased The Times in 1896 and his family is still the principal owner today. But The Times itself goes back to 1851, founded by Henry Jarvis Raymond as a Republican-leaning daily paper (with the exception of Sundays). Raymond was a former Whig politician and an instrumental figure in the creation of the Republican Party, serving as the second chairman of the RNC. The Times‘ star rose in the early 1870s when a series of exposes on Boss Tweed helped lead to the end of his notorious reign over NYC politics. A decade later in the 1880s they moved away from Republican support to declare themselves a politically independent newspaper – though I’m sure conservatives today would deride them as a wing of the Democratic Party. I’d counter that The Times strikes me as an impeccably intelligent and fact-based paper – and hey, facts tend to have a liberal bias.
Just like The Times you could look at a lot of these papers (extant and extinct) by looking at the names associated with them. It’s another thing you come across a lot in looking at New York City history. The Times had the Och family, and then the Sulzbergers who married into them. The Tribune was manned by Horace Greeley; The Herald by the Bennett family; William Cullen Bryant was the long-time editor of The New York Evening Post – the same paper we call The New York Post today. That’s right, this bastard was once the editor of the newspaper that now runs headlines more like this.
Time marches on.