It was last year, in the early fall, that I finished putting the final touches on my book. I had compiled a tome consisting of about 200 columns that I had written in The Star-News, and now it was ready for the presses.
This task had taken me nearly a year to complete. There was the selection of the appropriate documents that I would use, that is, the ones that I thought would satisfy the reader. After all if no one read it why write it? Much of this material had to be rewritten, taken from hard copy, namely, the original document on newsprint. Some of the documents could, of course, be digitally transferred from one part of the machine to another. I don’t know exactly how this worked but I had experts around me who were schooled in these mysteries. So the problems were solved and we were through with the hardest part of all. Or so we thought.
There had to be a title for the book. And it had to be something catchy, a type of thing that would want to make someone pick it up and read it. But it also had to say something about the contents of the tome. We, therefore, had a number of meetings or brainstorming with learned folks, Margo Caffrey, the paper’s publisher and Michelle Spurlock, the book publisher to name two. After some discussion we finally hit on “The Morning Paper and a Cup of Coffee.”
This choice was, by the way, unanimous.
Think about it for a moment. Of all the pleasant tasks or past times that can be observed by the literate population of the globe none, I believe, can compare with this seemingly innocuous act. We can just imagine the morning riser sitting at the kitchen table, sipping a freshly brewed cup of coffee with the freshly opened daily paper propped against a milk bottle pleased as punch or seething with rage at something on page one but anticipating something much more different on the next page. And then, the most pleasant part of all: reading his favorite columnist.
I bring this up at this time not because I fall in that category but because of disturbing trends that are presently taking place in the print media. The general consensus, by those who are in the know, tell us that the daily paper is like the dinosaurs of yore, an endangered species. We have already seen the demise of some of the nation’s most respected periodicals with their abolishing daily printing. One of these is the New Orleans Time Picayune, a paper that had published a daily edition for more than 100 years. They now come out only three times a week. With the curtailing of much of the press we see first the curtailing of those items that are not hard news and this would, of course, spell the dearth of the columnist. And that would be a shame as that is the individual who is the expert in his field, whether it be sports, or entertainment or merely advice.
I would suspect that I have been reading columnists since I first could read. I remember some of those firsts, writers like Jimmy Breslin or Walter Winchell. Winchell was one of the most successful. He came around in the early days of radio and, thus, had his own radio program. He would preface it with the clicking of telegraph keys and then he would come in and say, “Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea. Let’s go to press.”
I have referred to many of those erudite individuals in the past. I also must unabashedly admit to borrowing some of their sayings over the years. There are too many and their contribution to the business is too vast to mention in this space.
I would, however, be remiss if I did not mention one, a lady that I must admit I faithfully read. She is Pauline Phillips, aka Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby) who died the other day. Her career began in 1956 in the San Francisco Chronicle and spanned more than thirty years.
I remember this type of columnist from those early days.
The daily paper, in most major cities had a column called “Advice to the Love Lorn,” and the writer was known simply as a sob sister. Abby was none of these. I think her popularity lay in the fact that she did not take herself or anyone else too seriously. Take me at this instance: I would ask: “Dear Abby, I can’t get into the internet. What can I do?” (s) Perplexed.
Her answer would probably be, “Dear P. Read the morning paper.”