The N&O and I Almost Share…..

August12/ 2012

My wife shares a birth date with Hillary Clinton. My daughter shares hers with AlGore. My Father shared his with freakin’ Hitler. I share a birth date with Fidel Castro…. so I guess I should not be surprised that Fidel and I almost share a birth date with The News&Observer. I’m afraid to look up Charles Manson, Idi Amin, or Harry Reid. ……

The N&O turned 118 on Sunday. Fidel turns 86 on Monday. Me, I’m the young pup of the three at roughly half that of the local fish wrap. Unlike the venerable regional media colossus, I have had only one set of parents in my life. The N&O has had two – The infamous Daniels Family and the equally infamous McClatchy Corp HQed in Sacramento CA.

This ownership change has typified America’s newspaper industry over the past twenty-five years due in large part to the devastating governmental reality known as “estate taxes”. Newspapers of all sizes were traditionally family-owned businesses in this country thru at least two generations. Raleigh’s Daniels Family being among dozens of similar families that owned papers in 2nd-3rd tier cities.

These enterprises “printed money hand over fist” for most of the 20th century. Local merchants needed to advertise and print media was the first and most enduring option in any community. Display ads certainly but the bulk of the $$$ were printed in the classified sections. And public notices produced handfuls too.

It really didn’t matter that the local publisher was a crusty old curmudgeon with an ego the size of Mt Everest or that his family was likely as dysfunctional as The Borgias, and often as diabolically menacing as well. Every semi-literate galoot in the city and county read the local newspaper every day….. cussin’ the editor/publisher as we all scanned the obituaries, comic strips, sports pages, and society gossip columns. The aforementioned curmudgeonly editor/publisher blaring his edicts from his bully pulpit notwithstanding.

To their credit most of these ink-stained moguls were not at all shy. They traditionally had one of the largest mansions in the best zip codes even before there were zip codes. They were the Boss Tweeds of their domain. Some actually were “crusaders” but many were Midases counting their $$$$ and ramming their arrogance opinions down the throats of their hapless subscribers…. amid the want ads, movie & TV listings and daily LTTE from the local John Birch Society kook.

Then around the 70-80s the 3rd generations were all lined up to gorge themselves at the trough of the family money printers….. but FIRST Uncle Sam’s IRS got first gorge at the trough. By the time the IRS auditors had totaled up the estate taxes there was not only nothing in the trough….. there was no trough. So the battling sons, daughters, cuzzins, mistresses and the occasional favorite cat or dog had no choice but to sell the papers to one of a dozen or so national gobble-up corporations.

Such was the fate of The N&O. The Daniels held on until the mid 90s. The extended family by then had become more dysfunctional than The Ewings of Dallas. Family reunions required more security than a Lady Gaga concert; and was equally as bizarre. Along came McClatchy…..

The general public, in general, can be both nosy or nonplussed. Some noticed the change immediately while some still think “those damn Daniels” still print their bird cage’s carpet. Some NC State fans think the same gang that railroaded Jimmy V are still running the paper. They aren’t.

But the same journo-gang that became international punch lines for their botching Duke Lacrosse; and for being the LAST media outlet on the planet to cover the Edwards’ scandal ARE running the paper.

The past 6-7 of those 118 years has seen The N&O suffer the same dinosaurial pangs as newspapers everywhere. Info technology has departed “dead tree journalism” for the ease and immediacy of cyber-journalism. This has resulted, of course, in multitudes of unwrapped fish and very messy bird cages.

I am not one to predict the total demise of “newspapers” but surely those unable to generate positive cash flows via new delivery methods will join buggy whips and phone booths on the boneyard of extinct cultural icons.

As to the future of fellow August 13 birthday boy – Fidel Castro – that nasty sumbitch may outlive us all.

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