“These are the times that try men’s souls / In the course of our nation’s history the people of Boston have rallied bravely whenever the rights of men have been threatened / Today, a new crisis has arisen” – M.T.A., written by Bess Hawes and Jacqueline Steine.
Spats. Ethyl gas. Municipal steam baths. Mom’s Eats. Necco Wafers. Interurban trains. Screaming Yellow Zonkers. Montgomery Wards. Buggy whips. Magazines and newspapers. Yeah, I’m yelling at the clouds again.
Wait a minute. Magazines and newspapers? They’re still around. Sorta. Kinda. Almost. They’re coughing up blood, but they’re still around… if you know where to look. And while you’re doing that, say hello to Dr. Livingstone for me, will you?
My editor sent me a link to a piece in Boston Magazine about the closing of one of the deservedly most famous magazine stores in America, Harvard Square’s Out Of Town News in Cambridge Massachusetts. It’s supposed to happen late next month. At first I thought she might be goading me into writing this piece, which is her job. She went to Boston University, so I decided she was sharing her grief.
You’d think that if anybody was reading magazines and newspapers, it would be the people who use the MTA transit system to get to Harvard. But it’s not about people who will not read. We had plenty of magazines and newspapers back when a great many people didn’t know how to read. We had plenty of them when around when television came about, when 24-hour cable news channels started, and even after Al Gore invented the Internet. People need to know how to read in order to text while they’re driving and while they’re checking their cellphones during sex. Reading is still a thing.
Nope. It’s about how people don’t want to think. We can get the news (fake, as in Fox and Epoch Times, or real, as in most of the rest) from the tubes and wires, and we can get it instantaneously. The problem is, as any journalism school graduate can tell you, what you hear when they flash “breaking news” on the screen is incomplete. The story is still unfolding. There will be some information that will be corrected in due course, other information that will be put into its proper context given time and analysis. Newspapers and magazines often are very good at that.
Our electronic media, not so much. They’ll stand in front of a burning building and ask the survivors how they feel, and then they’ll put a couple screaming heads around a table, each with their own extreme points of view, and say they are covering the story from both points of view.
Well, here’s some breaking news: hardly any story can be explained by covering “both” points of view. There always are more than just two. Have you ever been to an old man’s bar? And, anyway, they’re just opinions.
Several decades ago, my friend, editor, and mentor Abe Peck, who I just embarrassed, wrote an article about some of the great surviving magazine stores. He cited my favorite, the Chicago-Main newsstand in Evanston Illinois, not far from Northwestern University which employed him as a journalism professor. It’s still there, although it winked out of existence for a brief time. He discussed the newsstand in Manhattan’s Pan-Am Building, and today that place is a tiny shell of its former self. I think the beautiful newsstand at Los Angeles’ Farmers Market remains extant.
Back in the day, damn near every small town in America had a wonderful little store near its bus station that sold magazines and newspapers, as well as candy, cigarettes, potato chips and other health food. I went out of my way to find those places, and I rarely took interurban buses. Most of them are long gone, and those busses aren’t looking so swell either.
Geriatric that I am, I still read magazines and newspapers. But I’m hep to the jive: I read almost all of them in their printed forms online. When I die I want my iPad cremated with me. Might as well. You won’t be able to pry it from my cold, dead hands.
Harvard Square’s Out Of Town News is in a beautiful building, “protected” by the various landmark committees until somebody with sufficient clout shows up. Well, I’m into architecture, so at least there’s that. I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a weed shop.
Yeah, nostalgia just ain’t what it used to be.