The golden era of newspapers

Public domain photo by Gary Todd

I love this passage from David Sachsman and Warren Sloat’s “The Press and the Suburbs: The Daily Newspapers of New Jersey” (1985). They’re writing about The Record of Bergen County, but it could have pertained to any number of papers:

It is the happiest of newspaper cycles. The advertisers supply the money, lots of it (49 pages of ads a day). The newspaper spends the money freely to produce a solid product, employing 198 full-time news staffers and 81 part-timers to fill a 24-page news hole. The high-income audience centered in towns like Ho-Ho-Kus, Wyckoff, Franklin Lakes, and Rivervale buys the newspaper and goes shopping, pleasing the advertisers, who buy more ads.

2 thoughts on “The golden era of newspapers

  1. Steve Ross

    Living in Leonia and raising a family there I saw this first hand. I was also a municipal official, a member of the planning board and the environmental commission. By 1985 I was teaching full time at Columbia. In the mid-1980s and into the early 1990s The Record covered every significant action of 70 towns in uber-wealthy Bergen County. That meant, in a given month, a town council meeting, planning board, school board, some school events (especially sports) and of course actual news — accidents, spills, fires, crimes. But on any given meeting night (Monday thru Thursday), dozens of things happening that needed coverage somewhere in the county.

    I introduced the Record staff to the World Wide Web in 1993 — Record business editor Neil Reisner was my Columbia University Adjunct.

    Within a few years, the wheels came off. The paper was making plenty. The Borg family had resisted offers to sell out to Conde Nast (its Newark Star Ledger was the biggest paper in the region). But the family began grooming the paper for sale by pumping up profits even more. They hired a chief editor who decided to save money by NOT covering the separate towns as much, if at all. Cover the county, not the towns! The fact that in NJ counties ran almost nothing, meant nothing.

    I never saw another Record reporter or even correspondent at a Leonia meeting again. The Record used “citizen journalism” under NYU guidance to try to catch up with a one-time series on racial/religious/real estate driven school mess in Teaneck and bragged about it nationwide. The top editor (serial killer) went on to derail the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The Record with, well, record profits as it cut back staffing, drank the Kool-Aid. The chief academic killer (who I think reads this blog) achieved fame himself as he helped others cash out.

    Greed killed a great paper, turning it into a dried husk… and then, more than five years later, Google happened. Then Facebook. Dried husks can’t compete. But their former owners can blame the dirty, filthy, rotten internet — in between their trips to the bank, of course.

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