Thoughts on the Death of Our Newspaper World

By James Buckley   |   August 8, 2023

I grew up with newsprint. As a 10-year-old newspaper delivery boy for the Lowell Sun, I spent many a Sunday morning on my new Schwinn Birthday Bike delivering the very large (and prosperous) Sunday edition of the Lowell Sun. Over the course of two years or so, my route went from 41 to 123 customers, many of whom expected me to have change on me when it came time for them to pay up. I frequently ran out of the correct change, so they’d tell me to come back another day.


Some never had the money and others “forgot” to pay me week after week.

But, hey, I was in the newspaper business!

I sold the L.A. Free Press on the streets of Hollywood in the mid-1960s. I think I asked for a quarter and kept a dime, but that memory is fuzzy. It was, after all, a free paper.

I walked up and down from Fleet Street to Oxford Street in London wearing the two-sided London Evening Standard headline-of-the-day on my shoulders and over my chest and back. I even became managing editor of the failing New York Free Press at the tender age of 24. 

When The New York Times – in full flower and making money by the bucketload – bought the Santa Barbara News-Press in 1984, that signaled the beginning of the end of newsprint.

It wasn’t obvious then, but the Times’ staff didn’t know this city and, frankly, didn’t much care about it either. Editors and publishers come and go, just as sports figures do in the majors now. Not in my day. If Jimmy Piersall or Ted Williams ever jumped ship from the Boston Red Sox to another team, particularly the New York Yankees, when I was a kid, a never-ending riot would have ensued. Those players were ours, nobody else’s. And riots would not have been contained in Boston. Every city in Massachusetts big and small, would have been outraged and crushed in equal measure. New England really is a small town.

Today, when a newspaper fails, the universal reaction is: Meh.

As far as a statement on the current sad circumstances of the Santa Barbara News-Press, well, we’ve all seen it coming for at least the past decade. The staff of the News-Press walked out onto De La Guerra Plaza in 2006 wearing Duct Tape over their mouths because the paper’s new owner, Wendy McCaw, had the audacity to remove an item concerning a high-profile Montecito resident (Rob Lowe). That the item could have breached the security of the actor’s new home didn’t matter. Apparently, the staff felt that the owner/publisher of the paper had no right to interfere with the editorial content of the paper.

Which is/was, in my opinion, absurd.

And, really, that attitude probably only accelerated the death of most papers that have folded over the course of this decades-long abandonment of print. Dailies were mostly run by absentee corporate ownership and headed up by well-paid editors whose inflated salaries eventually became untenable.

That nearly all mainstream dailies – the News-Press being a notable exception – spew the same kind of mind-numbing garbage in lockstep with each other is another reason, but really, the days of a subscription-based daily newspaper are/were numbered anyway. How could they possibly compete selling high-priced ads and paying giant-sized printing costs in the face of the competition that charges pennies and only when someone responds to an ad?

Community weeklies (the Santa Barbara Independent, Montecito Journal, Carpinteria’s Coastal View News) continue to thrive in the face of the Internet onslaught, and all make certain they stay connected to their community. But only their readers’ and advertisers’ continuing support will keep them that way.

So, say good-bye to newsprint wistfully, as we’ve said so-long to so many of our favorite things, such as eclairs with real crème patisserie and chocolate ganache, honey-glazed doughnuts with real honey, maple in maple syrup, cocaine in Coke, and, well you know the thing…  


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