David Simon On The Sunpaper, Hon

Posted on January 20, 2008


Aficionados of HBO’s The Wire, and particularly viewers of its final season, which focuses on a big-city newspaper, will be interested in David Simon’s piece in The Washington Post Outlook section today, 01-20-08. Bottom right corner of Page B1 under the headline “Does the News Matter To Anyone Anymore?”

If you live in the Baltimore region and you want to know what happened to The Sunpapers, pick up a copy of today’s Post, and David Simon will tell you.

If you live anywhere in America and you want to know what happened to the newspaper industry, I hope you can get a Post. It would be a supreme irony to read David Simon’s analysis on The Post Web site, but I guess a lot of people will have to.

The year I graduated from college, 1971, The Sun had a composing room with 500 skilled union printers working 24-7 to produce two great newspapers, am and pm. That was the peak of employment for printers. I believe that was also the last year The Sun hired new apprentices. The changeover from hot type to offset printing was coming.

When I went to The Baltimore Sun in 1996, the Evening Sun had closed and there were about 50 grizzled printers left doing paste-up work in the composing room. The morning paper still could legitimately claim to be “One of the top 10 newspapers in America.” (Number 10, to be precise, but hey, Top 10.) During my years working on the copy desk and as a makeup editor in the composing room, The Sun made the transition from paste-up in the composing room to pagination in the newsroom. What was left of the work once done by 500 printers is now done by a handful of design editors working on computers.

David Simon’s story focuses on the business decisions of monopoly newspapers, and the attrition of reporters and editors in a once-great newsroom. The big picture includes two technological revolutions (from hot type to offset, and from paste-up composition to computer pagination), and the loss of hundreds of skilled jobs (thousands, nationwide) in the printing trades. — Bernie Hayden