It was maybe the greatest story I’ve ever read in any out-of-town newspaper. It was last year in the Omaha World-Herald.
It was about a local businessman who repeatedly risked his own life to save a dozen people from a raging fire.
As news stories go, it sounds fairly dog-bites-man, doesn’t it? Many men and women conduct selfless heroics each and every day.
Why was this singular story so memorable?
The hero was a funeral director, the burning building his family funeral home and the people he “saved” were dead men and women destined for cremation.
He was risking his life to save dead bodies from burning so he could later burn those dead bodies with professional dignity. The reporter conveyed the whole heartrending ordeal with rich detail, dramatic quotes and subtle nods to all the inherent irony.
What a story. I probably read it four straight times.
Wherever I go, I still love reading out-of-town big city newspapers, seeing how former colleagues handle the mundane, the seedy and sublime.
Now, thanks to short-sighted bean counters at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I now have an out-of-town big city newspaper just 36 miles from my front door.
The P-G announced last week it would no longer be delivering to Westmoreland County, Pittsburgh’s eastern neighbor and home to roughly 360,000 literates.
Far be it for me to give financial advice to one of “America’s (self-proclaimed) Great Newspapers,” but it seems like a bone-headed error to deny people eager to purchase your product an opportunity to do so.
I can no longer buy the P-G at local convenience stores, newsstands or grocers. As of Saturday, I’ll have to drive to Allegheny County to do so.
Or, yeah, I could read it on-line, still an unsatisfying alternative for those of us who grew up reading a morning paper as part of our daily routine.
I’m the kind of guy P-G executive editor David Shribman was describing when I vividly recall him declaring on a local news show about 10 years ago there will always be newspapers.
“There’s always going to be lots of men and women,” he said, “who love to hold an actual newspaper.”
He was correct.
And many of us live right here in Westmoreland County.
I remained a regular P-G customer even when they raised the price of the daily to a whopping $2. To me, it still had value.
The experience of reading a print newspaper — any print newspaper — is totally different from reading on-line, an exchange designed to atomize your attention span by luring you to immediately read anything other than what you set out to read.
Reading on-line is to actual reading what phone sex is to lovemaking.
Gone is the soul, the serendipity and chance to get your hands good and dirty during the touchy endeavor.
That the people who make newspapers are now refusing to deliver newspapers to people who want to purchase newspapers bolsters my contention that the people responsible for saving newspapers are incompetent at saving even their own asses.
Want to save newspapers?
Become The New York Times.
I have an on-line subscription and still double dip by picking up daily editions.
I enjoy their political news, controversial though it is to dyspeptic firebreathers who consider Sean Hannity scholarly, but that breaking news spreads all over the web the instant The Times posts it. It barely registers with me.
I instead revel in the human interest stories about insane dictionary fanatics, technology stories about Shanghai elevators that go 45.6 mph, and science stories about the ticklishness of lab rats.
A daily Times costs me $2.50, but I savor it over three days. The transaction leaves me feeling like they’ve enriched me instead of vice versa.
And that is this month’s latest lament over the death of something still so special to me and so many others.
I’ve just about resigned myself to their demise.
I’ve become numb to the sight of frantic news industry executives futilely marching into burning buildings to retrieve bodies destined to get burned one way or the other.