Mark Bernstein: Newspapers Are Big, Not Bloated

Mark Bernstein (hypertext publisher and theorist) makes some good observations about the print-based newspaper industry:

I remember visiting the Chicago Sun Times/Daily News building as a
kid, where my best friend’s dad was a columnist. The place was huge!
But it wasn’t filled with middle managers; it was filled with
compositors and pressmen and ad sales clerks. You didn’t just need
someone to mark up the HTML; you had to cast the letters in lead type.
And, if you needed to make a change, someone had to go take the plates
off the press, melt them down, cast new plates, and start the press up

Keep in mind, too, the problems of doing business without computers.
Every little transaction generates paper, and that paper needs to be
reliably filed and quickly retrieved. Every transaction: two bucks for
the delivery boy, the rent for the Paris office, the fee for the
department store ads. Every paycheck had to be computed and written out
by hand, in duplicate. Even in the 70’s, the fax machine was so new and
faxes were so slow that Peter Gammons was able to write the story of a lifetime faster than the fax machine could send it.

If anything, the newsroom of old was notably short on bureaucracy. That was the whole point of the news room: you had a huge open office
in which dozens of people worked because all those dozens of people
reported to one editor. Some of those dozens would turn out to be
idiots, some of them would be crazy, plenty of them were drunks, and
all of them were prone to be unmanageable. Even so, there are
remarkably few layers of bureaucracy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *