I was walking across the town of Mendocino recently. Sandwiched between two paperbacks I had purchased at my local independent bookstore was a fresh copy of the San Francisco Chronicle.
It occurred to me, and not for the first time, that I was lugging around dinosaurs. Books printed on paper? See: Kindle and Ebooks. The Chron? Losing a million dollars a month, and still cutting back, so far back that soon there may be no newspaper at all.
Headline: “Chronicle faces cuts in staff, expenses.”
I worked for the Chron once, when I was still in high school, back in the previous century. I played Copy Boy. I never did see a Copy Girl. Copy Boys responded to shouts of “Boy!” from reporters out of paper and carbons (Remember carbons? Remember paper?) or copy editors (Remember copy editors?) who needed galleys taken somewhere, or columnists who wanted a fresh cup of coffee.
Late at night we gathered up icky sticky paste pots and cleaned them and refilled them in the bathroom. Then we cleaned the bathroom. We were the lowest of the low on the city room floor. But we could see everyone, hear everything, and best of all we were completely invisible.
We Copy Boys had a table all to ourselves. Stationed just behind us was Entertainment Editor Judy Stone, sister or daughter, I don’t remember, of the famous lefty writer “Izzy” I. F. Stone.
We could feel the city down there on 5th and Mission, across from the old Mint, at the edge of skid row and the Tenderloin. Sam Spade had just left the building, and you could smell his cologne in the elevator. Upstairs were the linotype machines, dinosaurs even then. Downstairs was a huge printing plant, and you could smell that, too. There were no computers, no cell phones, none of that.
In those days the De Young family owned the Chron, and Hearst ran The Examiner over on 3rd and Market, an afternoon rag, not a worthy competitor. As each edition of the EX hit the streets copies were delivered to Chronicle editors who scrutinized it for leads.
Ink, paper, sweat, a lot of running around, and a lot of energy. To a high school kid it felt like heaven in the real world. The memories still are sweet.
These days the already greatly-reduced Chronicle spends ten dollars on each copy of the Sunday paper and sells it for four. The Chron runs a great free web site but online it’s darned hard to figure out how to subscribe to the paper. Might as well read it for free online. Does anyone else remember the days when newsboys stood on corners selling papers to passing commuters or pedestrians? Get-chur pay-per...!!!
By the way, John Coate, the current General Manager of KZYX&Z had a lot to do with inventing the Chron’s online presence. And he did a great job.
The most important issue for newspapers is how to pay for reporters and the infrastructure that supports them. Subscriptions don’t cover it, class ads don’t cover it, and the web provides only a trickle of income.
I still love reading the paper even though I also read it online. Herb Caen is long gone, but now I read everything Jon Carroll writes, and Sports, and the editorials, and the geeky page, and other stuff, too.
I still get a big kick from headlines such as “Lincecum’s goal: doing even better this season” or “Toxics lurk beneath bay.” I think of Dashiell Hammett when I come across a headline like this: “Decomposed body found in deserted home.” “Wind farm blows into the delta” must have made some editor smile.
I have a message for Hearst, now owner of the Chron: Don’t give up. Don’t let it go. Too many memories, too many laughs, too many good things to just go away. Fix it. That’s right. Just fix it.
Now I’m going to pour a second cup of coffee and read the obituaries. Good times.
I don’t know Bill Roddy, but his America Hurrah web site is full of memories and photos. For one thing, he remembers being a Copy Boy on the 1941 Examiner.
Another Copy Boy memory, from an interview with journalist Tom Tugend:
"After I was discharged (from service in the Korean War), I got a job as a copy boy on the San Francisco Chronicle. That was one of the few ways to get in [to journalism]. If you made it, they made you a reporter. I was a copy boy for nine months. Herb Caen was there. Pierre Salinger. Other copy boys included a former philosophy professor and a socialite lawyer from New York. All odd balls. The most intelligent group of people I've known putting carbon sheets between sheets of paper and getting coffee for the reporters.
The entire interview