I was a reporter

What’s going to happen when daily newspapers die?

Bob Schmidt is a former state Capitol reporter and a frequent contributor to SN&R

I was a reporter, back when it was a good thing to be a reporter.

Hollywood portrayed reporters as good guys. James Stewart and Rosalind Russell were reporters who prevented miscarriages of justice. Joel McCrea was a reporter who uncovered a wealthy American who had been doing business with Nazis. Humphrey Bogart played a tough editor whose paper stood up against the bad guys and exposed corruption.

It was kind of glamorous to be a reporter. People returned your phone calls.

I was a reporter for a medium-sized paper, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, which competed in a big market, southwestern Los Angeles County, against a monolith, the Los Angeles Times. It was no big trick to beat the Times on a story in the Long Beach area. But it was a big, big deal to beat the Times on a story in L.A.

I did that once after I was sent to cover the state Capitol by the Press-Telegram. I broke the story that the State Building in downtown Los Angeles was going to be replaced. What made it satisfying was that the building was directly across the street from the Times. What made it very satisfying was when a Times reporter, a good friend, stuck his head in the doorway of my office across from the Capitol and cussed me out.

I’ve been getting together with a group of other retired state Capitol reporters for breakfast every Friday for more than 20 years. Used to be we talked about the infirmities that accompany growing older. Lately, we talk about the infirmities afflicting the newspaper industry.

Major newspapers in Philadelphia, Miami, Detroit, Seattle and San Francisco are in imminent danger of being shut down. A number of papers have already ceased publication. And speculation about how long The Sacramento Bee will survive is certainly justified.

How can that be? What, or who, will do what newspapers do on a daily basis if newspapers cease to be? Television? You know better. The Internet? Can you trust the sources of news on the Internet?

Maybe somehow or other the big news will be reported. What the president and Congress is doing, or not doing. What corporate executive has been indicted for cooking the books. Who is playing in the World Series. What picture or actor or actress won Oscars.

But what about the city council in Sacramento, Wichita, Biloxi or wherever? If teachers can’t agree on a contract with the school district and decide to go on strike, do kids find out about it when they arrive at school and the doors are locked? How are people going to know that a developer wants to raze a neighborhood shopping center and put up apartment buildings? If the northbound freeway lanes through downtown are going to be closed for three days so they can be resurfaced?

Who is going to report stuff like that, if there is no community newspaper to do it? Right now, that appears to be our future.