There is a newspaper tube that sits just below our mailbox. It has three white vertical dots on it, which I guess means something to the newspaper carrier in a car. The tube sits empty now, as of two weeks ago. For the first time in my adult life I am not a newspaper subscriber.
One of the toughest decisions I have ever made was to call the Knoxville News Sentinel, where I once worked when it was a real newspaper, and cancel my seven-day, home delivery subscription. Thirty of my 35 years as a professional journalist were spent with Scripps Howard, which owned the KNS before the Gannett-toids came to town. I am a retired editor of two Scripps newspapers – in El Paso, Texas, and Redding, California.
I loved what I did, every moment of it, in those newsrooms. Never – not even for one day – did I dread going to work. Many years ago, a great old pro at the Sentinel, Jim Dykes, paid me a wonderful compliment, never to be forgotten. “You know what, King?” he said one day at his desk. “There’s three of us in this newsroom who would do this for free – me, you and Marvin West.” He was, of course, right.
Newspaper ink has been in my blood since an early age. My grandfather – Mack Stewart Chiles – was an engineer and conductor for the old Southern Railroad (now Norfolk Southern) for 48 years. His main train was the classic passenger – the Southern Crescent. We lived with my grandparents in their home and newspapers were part of the house.
He introduced me to many great newspapers of the day – the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Louisville Courier-Journal, The Washington Post, The Florida Times Union of Jacksonville, The Cincinnati Enquirer, the Atlanta Constitution and Atlanta Journal, and a few others. He was a prolific writer of Letters to the Editor. He corresponded with newspaper editors. I read many of their exchanges. I used newspaper articles in school projects. We talked about stories and the papers a lot.
My love affair with the Sentinel began when the late great sports editor, Tom Siler, asked me to join his staff. I began work on September 1, 1974, and it was a bit intimidating to be a part of his team and work with this great collection of sportswriters – Marvin West, Roland Julian, Red Bailes, Harold Harris, Ted Riggs, Bill Luther, Sam Venable and Nick Gates. Those WERE the days.
So, you wonder, why did I cancel our subscription? I shall tread lightly here – I still have people I call my friends working downtown at the KNS. Those new owners, Gannett, are ruining this newspaper along with others around the country that it now owns in its quest to please shareholders and struggle against the online media world. It’s a nasty business these days and the ugliness is just starting.
I probably look at the newspaper from a different perspective than the average reader. I see the decline daily, the mistakes, the lack of local content, duplicate stories in different sections, the political bias that drives both news coverage and story emphasis, the disdain this company has for readers and subscribers and yes, advertisers – and even for the employees. It stings. Our once proud KNS has become what we once called USA Today – the McPaper. Put plainly, the KNS of today is not worth my time or my money. Extract the comics and the obituaries and there’s not much fat on the bone. I feel deeply for my buddies still trying to do their jobs.
Long ago this symbol let an editor know this was the end of the story – 30. Two nights ago I turned to my wife and asked: “Do you miss the newspaper?” She shook her head – no. I don’t either. And you can’t fathom how utterly sad that makes me feel.
– 30 –