Thursday, September 04, 2008

The "Sun" Sets

We at the Egg are passionate in our love of A.J. Liebling, who wrote beautifully about politics, boxing, food, war, and newspapers -- everything that matters in life except God, whom Liebling and most of the New Yorker staff in those days must have just assumed was Harold Ross in disguise.

Decades ago, Liebling warned that the number of daily newspapers was in decline, and that the big chains were shutting out the feisty local operators.  His concern was that, eventually, the once-fierce competition for news would become nothing more than the endless regurgitation of a few officially-approved stories, yakked up by comfortable corporate mouthpieces.  Needless to say, he was right, and his prophecy has long since been fulfilled.

So it was with considerable excitement, some years ago, that we welcomed the arrival of a new daily newspaper in New York City.  Now, NYC  is not the one-paper town that most cities are becoming.  It still boasts the Post, the News and the Times, as well as the suburban Newsday and several "alternative" weeklies, most notably the Village Voice.  (Oh, and the Wall Street Journal, which is a New York paper, if only barely).  And although the Voice has taken a nose-dive of late, the others are still solid papers.  But still, we longed for the days when the newsstands were jammed with all of these, as well as dozens more Heralds, Tribunes and Gazettes, all with morning and evening editions.

We rejoiced, therefore, when some wealthy investors agreed to bankroll a new paper using an honored old masthead, the New York Sun.  Even though -- or perhaps because -- it proudly promoted a political perspective with which we, like most New Yorkers, were not comfortable, we were thrilled by the thought of a new voice, something that might combine the Post's contrarian perspective with the mandarin tone of the Old Gray Lady.  This -- we thought, licking our lips -- is gonna be great.

Then the first issue hit the stands.  The logo and slogan ("It shines for all") were full of promise, but the paper did not come through.  It was a thin, wee slip of a thing, containing, as we remember, two pieces of original reporting, fleshed out with several pages of wire-service retreads and some poorly-written opinion pieces.  It cost a few pennies, and even these we did not consider well-spent; still, we labored on for a week or two, before giving it up as lost.  This was, clearly, a vanity project on the part of a few undistinguished journalists with an axe to grind, sponsored by some guys with too much money.

Comes now the news, via Reuters, that after six years, the Sun is going to set, likely by the end of the month.  Oh, there is the possibility of a last-minute infusion of capital by even more rich guys with even more money -- New York's greatest natural resource, after all.  But even that won't solve the long-term problem.  Newspapers were an endangered species long before this DARPANet thing took off, and even the good ones are struggling to find advertisers and pay reporters.  The bad ones don't have a chance.

Once upon a time, a mediocre paper with an original twist -- Photos!  Funnies!  The Spanish-American War! -- could survive, one voice among many others.  But those days are gone.  We miss them bitterly, just as we miss radio drama, vaudeville and fiddleback chasubles.  But there you have it.  We are saddened, less because the Sun is going to fail than because it never had a chance to succeed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

ah, and in the years to come will we miss the .coms ?