Shoptalk: My Love Letter to Newspapers

By: Curtis Rush
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Shoptalk0416

A miracle is taking place in Toronto every single day. Don’t look now, but we’re starting to run out of miracles. I’m talking about newspapers and the dying that’s going on.

People inside the business know about this miracle. They live it. But does the public really know what’s going on under the hood?

As I wind down my 40-year newspaper career, I wanted to write a love letter to newspapers and pay my respects. They’ve been my life. They are many people’s lives.

Every day, this daily production, so chock full of dispatches and photos from all over the world, hits the presses and lands on doorsteps. To me, it remains a marvel of efficiency and teamwork.

That’s why it’s called the daily miracle. If you don’t know about it, read on:

On an average day, for instance, the print edition of the New York Times contains about 150,000 words, twice as many as there are in the Philosopher’s Stone and three times the number in The Great Gatsby.

The Star’s numbers would be in that category. Word for word, pound for pound, the price is a bargain. A coffee at Starbucks would cost you more.

At the Star, staff reporters, photographers, and correspondents all over the world gather information, often putting their lives on the line.

They offer a window to the world. They find people, think up great questions, take notes or record this, then dash off to write up an account, while photographers quickly race against the clock to file their best shots for scrutiny by a photo editor.

Out of this massive amount of reporting, only a small percentage of stories get selected for the daily paper.

All these stories, from the world of sports, politics, government to business and entertainment, get edited word by word and then are smartly packaged. The pages are sent to a printing press, which then churns out hundreds of thousands of copies. The papers are bundled, loaded onto trucks and delivered to your door.

Just a few breakdowns in the cycle, and this doesn’t happen. But it usually does and that’s the amazing part. A worldwide effort has led to your door or coffee shop.

Yes, there are mistakes and occasional typos. But don’t tell me you’ve never found a typo in your favorite book, and the publishing cycle doesn’t have the same time demands. I work in the business and I’m still in awe over this clockwork efficiency.

And then we all do it the next day. People would be shocked if they could walk in our shoes for one day.

They see newspaper movies and think they know us. Movies have portrayed us as aggressive egotists who will twist a story to land a scoop.

That’s why the movie “Spotlight” shines a more accurate light on what we do, and this Academy Award-winning movie has done more for our profession than any film since “All the President’s Men.”

The untold story of journalists is this: The writing is the easy part. The stuff that comes beforehand is what’s hard.

How do you find people? Where do they live? Where do they work? It would be easier if they wore tracking devices, but then journalism would be easy, right?

We are persistent. Not aggressive. There’s a difference.

And there’s little time to celebrate our achievements, big or small. It’s back into battle the next day.

I am reminded of a pivotal scene with Jason Robards, who played editor Ben Bradlee in “All The President’s Men.”

Woodward and Bernstein were about to break the Watergate scandal wide open, but a setback was threatening to sink the Washington Post. Bradlee praised them and prodded them at the same time.

“You guys are probably pretty tired, right? Well, you should be. Go on home, get a nice hot bath. Rest up…15 minutes. Then get your asses back in gear. We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there.”

A lot of great journalists around the world will take that hot bath tonight and get their asses back in gear tomorrow.

The daily miracle is about to happen all over again.

Curtis Rush is a sports writer at the Toronto Star. Over a 35-year career at the Star, he has been a copy editor, general assignment reporter, crime reporter and, for the past three years, a sports writer. He retires from a 40-year career in newspapers at the end of April.

Published: April 15, 2016

8 thoughts on “Shoptalk: My Love Letter to Newspapers

  • April 15, 2016 at 4:44 am
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    Mr. Rush, thank you for this wonderful “love letter”. My family runs a small weekly in Paris, Kentucky and though we haven’t a lot of “hard” news, the effort, the passion and the deadline pressure is no different. As my family grows older and with no offspring interested in carrying on the family business we are being forced to soon make some hard decisions. This newspaper has been in continuous publication for some 205 years…and we hope that in some form or another it will continue another 200.

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  • April 15, 2016 at 4:49 am
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    Great tribute to newspaperdom. Long live newspapers, they ARE the Fourth Estate!

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  • April 15, 2016 at 9:13 am
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    What a terrific letter! I also soon will be wrapping up a 40-year newspaper career, and while the daily miracle is still impressive to behold, it’s a walk in the park compared to what it used to be. Journalists are still journalists, but the pounding heartbeat of the newsroom has been reduced to a murmur. But the important thing is that it’s still ticking.

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  • April 15, 2016 at 10:48 am
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    As I read “Love Letter,” I realized today is the 35th anniversary of our family-owned weekly newspaper. While our news is not earth-shattering, we have put in many long hours over the years to make sure the people of this small South Carolina town stay informed. Thank you so much for your article and good luck and happiness in your retirement. I hope I’m right behind you!

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  • April 15, 2016 at 1:47 pm
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    I’ve been in the business for 41 years and worked at the Washington Post when the movie (All The President’s Men) came out. While I spend nearly my entire career in the Production department I also felt like we were teammates with the Newsroom. We printed a great newspaper for a million readers every week. And we had a great impact beyond Watergate. It’s sad to see the impact that the internet and social media have had on newspapers. I hope the next generation can find better ways to communicate, inform and take action.

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  • April 15, 2016 at 2:44 pm
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    Couldn’t agree more and I’m not an ex journo but an ex production director for Australasian mayor newspapers and consultant since 2000 for major world newspaper groups. yes we were a daily miracle too, especially Saturday with 300 broadsheet pages.

    Someone once asked why do I like the newspaper industry so much and the answer is easy. We start every day with absolutely nothing and by combined skills of many produce a complete quality newspaper on time, and gain a huge sense of achievement . And then start again the next day…

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  • April 16, 2016 at 7:09 am
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    I can’t imagine not having my morning paper. I, and my community, would both be poorer for it. Thank you for this piece on the profession and your love for it.

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  • May 8, 2016 at 10:46 pm
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    I am the publisher of a weekly newspaper in San Diego and I remember the words of my late co-publisher, who says “newspapering is wonderful because it is creating something out of nothing. It feels like giving birth when you try to beat deadline. Nevertheless, It is so rewarding to see your quality finished product, then you realized it is time to do the next edition…”

    Reply

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