What the 1962-63 New York newspaper strike teaches us about our post-newspaper future.

Media criticism.
May 11 2009 7:44 PM

Life After Newspapers

Learning from the 1962-63 New York newspaper strike.

(Continued from Page 1)

Newspaper reporters, untethered from their wage slavery, sought freelance income. Tom Wolfe, for one, ended up contributing to Esquire because of the strike, producing the New Journalism classic "There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy Kolored (Thphhhhhh!) Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (Rahghhh!) Around the Bend (Brummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm …)." Times veteran Talese makes it sound as though the strike essentially liberated Times staffers from their overlords. He writes:

[Timesmen] could see that life went on without The Times, the world went on without The Times, and as the newspaper strike continued they gained in self-confidence and awareness; they explored new areas of the city at a slow pace, they saw new people, thought new thoughts, dressed more casually, acted more impulsively, sensed what it would be like not to be a Timesman—no privileged treatment from politicians, no free tickets from press agents, no guarantee that a telephone call would be returned from an important person; no sense of responsibility to these important people, no restrictions when writing a Times story, no feeling of personal restraint and caution in public dealings or private involvements.

The New York market never really recovered from the great strike. A couple of months after its conclusion, New York daily circulation was down 10 percent from pre-strike levels. Later in the year, Hearst's New York Mirror expired, and eventually the New York Herald Tribune, the New York World Telegram & Sun, and the New York Journal-American joined the Mirror on the heap.

The least reliable source for what the end of newspapers means is usually the newspaper men, who are too stuck in their roles to reimagine the world. About a month into the strike, Times columnist James "Scotty" Reston went on New York's Channel 4 to read his column to viewers, begging an end to the strike. Said Reston (only half kidding, I think):

It's bad enough on the public, but think of a reporter. I've been fielding the Times on my front stoop every morning for 25 years and it's cold and lonely out there now. Besides, how do I know what I think if I can't read what I write?

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Credit—or blame—the strike with creating the team of Evans and Novak. In 2003, Novak wrote, "[t]he column was given birth by the ultimately unsuccessful efforts of editor James Bellows to save the New York Herald Tribune after the disastrous New York newspaper strike of 1963. Bellows asked Evans, one of the paper's top Washington correspondents, to write a six-day-a-week column. When Evans protested that was too much for one person, Bellows told him to find a partner." With that lame attempt at a sign-off, I have no idea of how to artfully work in my Twitter handle or to suggest that you send e-mail to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Track my errors: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slate runs a "Press Box" correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the word strike in the subject head of an e-mail message, and send it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com.

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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