This is my last column for the Journal-Courier. A few weeks ago, the editor, David Bauer, informed me that my column was being terminated as of today. He said the decision was “a budget decision”. Jay Jamison’s column was also ended. I don’t know what other changes have been made.
These are hard times for newspapers. Newspapers large and small have suffered in the recent past. Circulation for daily newspapers across America has fallen by about half since 2000. Advertising revenue for newspapers has fallen over 75%.
While national newspapers are weathering this storm, local newspapers are closing. Since 2004, about 1,800 local papers have closed or merged. The smaller the paper, the more likely it would close.
This has hit newsrooms particularly hard: the number of news journalists has dropped by half. While national newspapers are weathering this storm, local newspapers are closing. Since 2004, about 1,800 local papers have closed or merged. The smaller the paper, the more likely it would close.
The new tariffs imposed by the Trump administration raised costs suddenly. The tariff on paper from Canada greatly increased costs for all papers. In September, the US International Trade Commission found that American paper mills were not hurt by Canadian imports and canceled the tariffs. But David Bauer told me that the tariffs on imported aluminum, used to create plates for printing presses, mean that printing costs have jumped.
I was very lucky to be given the opportunity to write opinion pieces for the Journal-Courier during remarkable times. For me, “freedom of the press” captures the sense of intellectual and political freedom I was given at the end of my working life. An example of that freedom is the word limit within which most op-ed writers must operate. David let me gradually push the length of my articles from the standard 650 to 850.
Probably more important, for me and my readers, was the freedom of subject I was given. Although I was a local columnist, I could write about any place or any subject. Over 9 years, I never heard one negative word from my editor about my subjects or my opinions about them. I could go wherever I wanted in my Tuesday columns.
I will continue to write. I feel a need to comment on life and current events. Writing columns means going beyond my immediate reactions and opinions to read what other people have written, to put together relevant facts, to think again and to put my thoughts into a coherent argument. I learn something every week about the world and about myself.
But I think that something is lost in this shift away of local columnists commenting on national issues, especially political issues, occurring here and elsewhere. There are many writers across the country who write from perspectives similar to mine or to Jay’s. The internet allows anyone with a computer to access countless opinion columns on any issue every day.
The difference is that they are not here in Jacksonville. They are not neighbors. They don’t share the life of this community. You will never see them in the grocery store or at a concert or eating at a restaurant. There is no chance of developing a relationship with them. My writing will no longer seep into a single community, not just as single pieces, but as a regular injection by a person who is familiar, who sees the world from the same place as my neighbors, although not with the same eyes.
A newspaper is an experience shared across a physical community, trying, these days desperately, to appeal as broadly as possible. So we all read the same obituaries and advertisements, the same sports reporting, the same advice columns, and the same opinion pieces. Some local people, who would never go to any website that featured my writing, who would never seek out the well-known liberal media voices on the internet or on TV, did more than glance away from my Tuesday op-eds. I know that, because some of them repeatedly wrote nasty messages to me, ostensibly provoked by what I had just written, but often simply outraged by my existence.
I have talked with enough people in Jacksonville to know that some who hated my politics learned to respect me and my opinions, perhaps shifting their political perspective ever so slightly.
The demise of newspapers in America may put an end to the kind of interactions between writers and audiences which bridge partisan gulfs, which challenge partisan certainties. When people search on the internet for reading material, they usually look in familiar places where their views are shared. Internet opinion tends to reinforce what we already believe.
I will miss the sense that I am writing mainly for people I see every day. After eating breakfast at Norma’s the other day, when I went to pay, I was told that someone had picked up my tab. The internet cannot provide such personal connections.
Perhaps this change will lead to new thoughts about how to distribute my essays more widely, most likely through social media. In the meantime, my articles will be posted each Tuesday on my website stevehochstadt.blogspot.com. I will be happy to send them by email to anyone who wishes to get them – just let me know by writing to me at email@example.com.
Thank you for allowing me into your homes and into your minds.
Taking Back Our Lives