Seldom is a new year such an abrupt change as this one. I’ve been laid off from my old job at Allen’s Press Clipping Bureau due to the economy as of last Thursday, December 30, when I packed up my office knickknacks and headed home.
Even though I knew it was because of the economy, and even though I knew it was coming since before Thanksgiving, it’s still not easy to pack up from a job you’ve held for 13 years.
I know what you’re thinking. Well, what exactly is a press clipping bureau and what kind of job is a “newspaper reader”? Well, once upon a time, in 1888, our main office in San Francisco was founded by William Montgomery Clemens, at the suggestion of his Uncle Samuel. . . No, I’m not making this up, and the reference to Mark Twain is included in a News That’s Fit to Clip column by Rob Morse profiling our SF office in The San Francisco Chronicle from March 25, 2001:
The article describes how our main office worked, and it’s pretty much the same, even 10 years later, at our Seattle office (although our readers use easels, like artists):
Readers sit at tables that look like something out of Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener.” Each day they scan 2,500 newspapers from up and down the West Coast, looking for more than 10,000 names or topics assigned by 3,000 clients, marking each page with clients’ account numbers.
Then the pages go to cutters, who slash out the stories with amazing speed and accuracy. Labels are then pasted to the clips, which are sorted into an ancient bank of cubbyholes, the upper leftmost of which is marked “client number one,” for the governor of California.
The governor can see what voters are reading about him in every paper from El Centro to Yreka.
The technology in all this is completely pre-Silicon Age.
“We still use the Addressograph,” said McCombs. “Maybe when we can’t get parts for the old machines, then we’ll get computers.”
You may think we need to discover that 20th century invention, the computer. Actually, the addresses for envelopes that the Addressograph used to do are one of the tasks that have migrated to our computer. Although, we still do use file boxes and catalogs in the reading room, as noted in the article.
There is another reason we haven’t ventured into online clippings, though, in addition to some people preferring the physical clippings and the amount of content not online yet. Copyright laws have not been fully worked out for digital content and how that will apply to the press clipping industry and, in fact, newspapers are cracking down on what they consider stolen content.
Here’s a link to an article on the AP’s plans to go after websites that practice “content ‘scraping’,” reprinting articles without permission as they try to find a way to make money through tracking online visits for advertising opportunities:
Newspapers are also putting up digital “pay walls.” A case in point, while the newspaper from the town I went to high school in Oregon, the St. Helens Chronicle, finally went online this year; my hometown paper in upstate New York, the Apalachin Community Press, which has been available online for at least a decade, now has a PayPal button to subscribe if you want to see their content (and it’s a free paper within the area).
St. Helens Chronicle: http://www.thechronicleonline.com/
Apalachin Community Press: http://www.tiogaweb.com/communitypress/
Actually, $20 a year for the days of Auld Lang Syne might not be so bad, once I find a new job. (Note for another blog entry: do not wait 30-40 years to try to recover photos from old negatives.)
The trouble is, even $20 a year for every newspaper site I visit would add up. Hoping they find a way to maybe make package deals for access to papers outside your area in addition to your hometown subscription if they go that route. On the other hand, while I’m not crazy about the commercial aspect of going for advertising either, reporters have to be paid or our papers will disappear or shift to online versions that don’t have the content they once did.
I think good print journalism will survive. While I’m hoping physical papers and news racks like these don’t go the way of the pay phone; the fact is, people are still reading articles, just in another format, just like people are still making phone calls, on their cell phones. OK, young people are texting, but still, some things can’t be told in 140 characters or less.
I think there’ll also always be a need for a press clipping bureau, even if eventually they’re more online. Where else could you get articles from not only the Seattle Times to the Spokesman Review, but the West Seattle Herald to the Methow Valley News, The Stranger to the Catholic Northwest Progress, and not only the Anchorage Daily News, but the Mukluk News and the Ester Republic, in a timely, cost efficient manner?
Meanwhile, though, we are in a downturn, in a changing industry still finding its footing, and I need to hit the ground running. . .
OK, maybe not literally. Walking more was my New Year’s physical fitness resolution.
If I believe the San Francisco Chronicle article, maybe I need to enter the 21st Century. . .
. . . where the first volume of Mark Twain’s autobiography was just published last year?
Hey, wait a minute! Are the controls on this time machine working?!!!