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The newspaper business has a rich and colorful past

Since I changed jobs two years ago and no longer work with just one or two papers, I don't do tours of the office anymore. I now work on the central design desk, so somebody else has to take Cub Scouts and student groups around and tell them all the juicy newspaper scuttlebutt.

Still, I do have a lot of information about the newspaper business rattling around in my head so I thought I'd share some of it with you. Besides, as you people out there become more and more infatuated with your cellphones and hand-held devices, you know less and less every day about this important, historic method of conveying news that I like to call the newspaper, so consider this a free refresher course.

Our company produces somewhere in the vicinity of two dozen community newspapers. I usually hedge on that number a little because every few weeks it seems like we buy another two or three. Besides, while most of our papers are weeklies, some are monthlies — and, let's face it, some are pretty far away, in towns some Portland residents don't actually go to on purpose.

I always liked to start my tours with the question, “Who can tell me what news is?” Then, after an awkward pause in which little kids either swivel in the big, fat chairs around the conference room table or raise their hands and make completely idiotic guesses, I tell them the answer: News is anything out of the ordinary.

Nobody cares, I tell them, how many planes landed safely at the airport today. I learned that fact from Andy Rooney, the famous TV curmudgeon who was even older and grumpier than me.

I also like to point out that our company (unlike some others) specializes in what we call “refrigerator news,” meaning anything folks are likely to cut out and tape to their fridge.

The rest of a typical tour consists of wandering through the building, pointing out where the advertising people would be if they were here (at which time we talk about ads and the fact that they pay our salaries and the bills), the classified department, creative services (formerly known as production), the circulation department (responsible for getting our papers to homes and newsstands), the newsroom and various other points of interest, such as the morgue, where a year's worth of old papers are kept, and so on.

But, because these are usually young children, we never get a chance to talk about the meaty stuff — you know, like ethical dilemmas, power struggles between news and ad people, the best places to go to lunch, etc. And we certainly don't get into any real serious discussion of my profession's history, so allow me to offer some insights into that.

The first newspaper was published in Rome in 59 B.C. Really. It was called Acta Diuma. Fifteen-hundred years later (things didn't happen that fast in the olden days), the first monthly newspaper was published in Venice. It was called Notizie Scritte. I know this because the worldwide Web told me so (inventors.about.com).

The first American newspaper was called Publick Occurrences and that appeared in 1690.

A key to the publishing business was the printing press, which was invented by Johann “Big John” Gutenberg. Because that was in the late 1400s, I didn't actually know Mr. Gutenberg, but it was a fairly big deal that he came up with a movable type machine for printing things because before that, everybody pretty much relied on monks who sat by candlelight and copied written documents in their super fancy “monk writing.”

One of the greatest newspapermen of all time was Horace Greeley. He was so great, my History of Journalism class at the University of Oregon spent a whole frickin' day on him and, of course, they eventually named a town in Colorado after him.

I have a number of personal favorite newspapers: The Weekly World News, the utterly fallacious supermarket tabloid that died years ago, The Onion, which is still alive — and the newspaper featured in the television show “The Simpsons”: The Springfield Shopper.

The Springfield Shopper, according to the Simpsons Wiki website, “was founded in 1883 by Johnny Newspaperseed, a small boy who traveled around America founding newspapers. The Shopper merged with the Springfield Times, Post, Globe, Herald, Jewish News and Hot Sex Weekly, becoming Springfield's biggest paper. The newspaper was also bought briefly by Charles Montgomery Burns, who was on a mission to control all the media in Springfield and by the Movementarians, an evil cult who were attempting to brainwash all Springfieldians.

“The paper carries opinion, sports, food, world, arts, religion and leisure sections. It tends toward tabloid stories, with such headlines as 'Woman Weds Ape,' 'Hippo promoted to detective' and 'Crazed Mom Goes Topless (Photos Pages 3–28).'”

The papers I now work on include the Wilsonville Spokesman (on Monday), the Forest Grove News-Times (Tuesday), Lake Oswego Review (Wednesday) and the South County Spotlight (Thursday). Other members of my department work on the Portland Tribune, Gresham Outlook, West Linn Tidings, Beaverton Valley Times, Estacada News, Sandy Post, Tigard-Tualatin Times and several others just as important but I'm running out of space and time to mention them right now.

And just in case you get irritated at this or anything else I've written, please don't get all huffy and call it “poor journalism” because it's not really journalism. What it should be called is “poor entertainment.”

Former managing editor of several community newspapers, including the Woodburn Independent, Lake Oswego Review and the Times papers, Kelly is chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.



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