Another of the nation’s once-remarkable papers was the Des Moines Register. It assumed a thoroughly statewide focus, with locator maps pointing out where many of the communities were and an amazing ability to note where anyone mentioned in a national story had ever lived anywhere in Iowa. The front page had an old-fashioned, authoritative appearance with a prominent, staff-produced editorial cartoon and block-letter capital-letter banner headline. I appreciated the frequency of national and international stories that carried the byline, “Combined Wire Services,” meaning a copy editor had spent several hours comparing Associated Press, United Press International, New York Times, and other dispatches to glean details to rewrite into a more comprehensive report. All of that, of course, cost money.

Statewide newspapers began cutting back as the costs of distribution soared, combined with a recognition that nearly all of the advertisers – the principal source of revenue – were aiming at only the major metropolitan area.

It wasn’t just statewide coverage, either, that has been curtailed. Most of the biggest papers have since shuttered their foreign offices and cut back on national reporting, as well.

You can as easily say they’ve cheapened the product, but that’s a longer term issue.


For a surreal, playful, and often gallows-humor trip within one young and ambitious newsroom, pick up my novel, Hometown News.

Hometown News


You know the Front Page tradition. But how much do you see about behind-the-scenes reality where newspaper reporters and editors are instead besieged by the very corporations that have gobbled up newspaper after newspaper, and city after city? My novel follows a band of idealists recruited to a family-owned newspaper by the promise of professional excellence and a competitive spirit. Through ever-more demanding workdays and a twist of fate, they ultimately overpower a monolithic neighboring rival, only to see their smiling publisher sell out to a media conglomerate. As their moment of glory disintegrates into surreal management games, unethical directives, and excruciating budget cuts, they struggle to save as much of their hard-won victory as possible – and painfully come to know themselves, their trade, and their neighborhoods in a much different light than they had just months earlier.



To find out more about Hometown News or to obtain your own copy, go to my page at


Hometown News goes behind-the-scenes in the ways decisions are made in reporting the daily life of a seemingly pedestrian community – the kind of place where many of us grew up or perhaps resided. Focused on a family newspaper as it moves to a new generation of leadership, the novel builds on the aspirations of a core of young professional journalists. They share the ideal that aggressive reporting will foster grassroots democracy and an entrepreneurial vision as well as a widespread, healthy community. At most of the nation’s 1,500 daily newspapers, however, the bottom-line corporate outlook has meant that newsroom resources were squeezed to fatten corporate profits, even before the Internet began to erode paid readership. In that business model, readers and advertisers both got less and less for their money, and lively news from the neighborhood went untold. Unlike the Front Page tradition, today’s editors and writers have been stymied more by corporate bean-counters within than by Public Enemies without.

Hometown_News ~*~

To find out more about Hometown News or to obtain your own copy, go to my page at



When I first drafted this novel three decades ago, little did I expect it to be a requiem for a profession I’ve loved and served all my life. Now, though, as the history has unfolded, I’m left hoping against hope it’s not a requiem for community after community across America as well. Read it and weep – yet laughing along the way. We are, after all, still a resourceful people


Hometown_NewsTo find out more about Hometown News or to obtain your own copy, go to my page at




Newspapers have long run on a peculiar business model.

People buy the paper mostly for the news, but what they pay for the product covers only a fraction of the actual cost. Traditionally, advertising generated the other 80 to 90 percent.

That imbalance always resulted in an inherent tension in the executive offices, where any expenditure for news coverage was viewed with suspicion, especially when few of the publishers – the top local executive – came from the news-gathering side.

The rest of the operation included the composing room and related departments that manufactured the actual pages that then went to the presses, plus the “mail room” where supplements were inserted and the bundles were arranged for distribution, the circulation department, and then the ad sales reps, accounting, community services/promotion, and human resources. Especially accounting. In more recent decades, the computer techs assumed their own role.

For a bit of perspective, go to a store and buy an artist’s newsprint sketchpad and then compare its cost and the amount of paper against what the typical paper carries. You’ll see what a bargain the daily paper has been. What you pay for the news essentially covers the cost of getting it from the end of the press to the place you read it.

So this is how things ran until the Internet came along. And then, for a host of reasons, publishers began putting websites up and readers began getting the news without having to view any of the surrounding advertisements that were paying the bills. That, in itself, was a recipe for disaster.

Curiously, long before the arrival of the Internet, I’d noticed that what the readers paid for a paper would be sufficient to staff a newsroom and its supporting services. Leap ahead, and you can see that if users would pay for their local news online, you could create journalism that would not have the advertisers lurking in the corners. Unfortunately, online users have become spoiled and rarely pay for anything. Attempts at firewalls, as we’ve seen, have also failed.

At the moment, the future of American journalism looks grim. And that’s bad news for our political structure and the lives of our communities themselves.


Hometown News

To find out more about Hometown News or to obtain your own copy, go to my page at



A central problem for newspapers in the past half century is that they became increasingly homogenized and thus lost their distinctive, individual identities. Admittedly, that was always a problem when people saw it as “the paper” rather than the Times or Post or Chronicle or Herald and so on. But in the days when a city would have two or more daily newspapers, each one needed to have some unique identity to set it apart in the marketplace. Sometimes it was along party lines – Republican or Democrat – or social identities, such as blue-collar or proper society, but often it also meant the kind of news that was emphasized: national and international, for instance, versus local. And hometown columnists were always a voice that readers could count on. Think Herb Caen in San Francisco, Mike Royko in Chicago, or Jimmy Breslin in New York – or any of the great sportswriters.

In those days, newspapers were thinner than they became in the last decades of the 20th century – often just two sections – rather than the four to eight that followed in the great mergers and closures that led most cities to have only one daily journal. Much of that problem, we should note, could be blamed on the “unduplicated readership” that ad-space buyers relied on in allocating their budgets. No matter how marvelous the Washington Star was in its final days, or the suburban Journal papers were in the counties around the city, they couldn’t overcome that hurdle – when it came to outright readership, the Washington Post had the monopoly. Since everybody had to read it, there was no point in advertising elsewhere.

With few exceptions – New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia – we’re left with single-paper markets where the product looks and reads like those everywhere else, except that the stories take place there than elsewhere.

As the local newspaper more and more became a one-size-fits-all model, what I no longer heard was the feeling that it “speaks for me” or my section of the wider community. And now, even those special voices within its pages are no longer there – one by one, the columnists were never replaced.

The newspaper I longed to create had little resemblance to that bland crime-and-crashes emphasis that too often prevails these days, in place of more difficult and costly investigative reporting or a bigger view that critically examines education, the fine arts, social justice, the environment, and so on.

It’s hard to get excited by what’s there. And we wonder why circulation kept declining even before the Internet?

This is, I should note, a contrarian viewpoint, since the publishers kept proclaiming the “improved service” each time they merged two papers into one. So here we are, online and blogging.


Hometown News

To find out more about Hometown News or to obtain your own copy, go to my page at


Even as a cub reporter, I loved writing long pieces. It’s what I prefer to read, really read, when I have time. By long, I don’t mean pointless minutia or the trivia of, say, a public hearing, but rather the probing look at how and why a thing has happened and maybe even what to expect as a consequence. Add to that the human dimension, especially from the point of view of those most impacted by the action rather than those at the top of the pyramid.

One model of this style of news writing came in the three stories on the front page of the Wall Street Journal each day – what they called their “leaders,” back in the era before Murdoch. If you looked closely, you’d see how each one was composed of several smaller stories, each one telescoping into the next. The reporters could joke that their work was so heavily edited they no longer recognized the finished version, but for those of us reading, the result was rewarding, the way a good meal is.

As a journalist, the irony has been that I spent much of my career crafting headlines and photo captions … short, short, short … and that was even before I relied more and more on news briefing columns to get the day’s world and nation reports into the paper at all.

Not that I lost my love of long writing. My “shelf” of ebook novels is proof of that, including my most recent, which delves into the news business itself.

As a blogger, though, I’m also admitting pleasure in composing shorter postings like the ones that appear here at Jnana’s Red Barn. Apparently, from the stats, they must be connecting.

My other four blogs provide venues for the longer writing, and the results to date are mixed.

To my surprise, my genealogy blog, The Orphan George Chronicles, has drawn far more hits than I’d anticipated. I figured its appeal would be to a few dozen fellow researchers, and having the results online would be much easier to find than if the files were archived in a few libraries somewhere. As for publishing them in paper editions, the likely audience would never cover the expenses.

My Quaker blog, As Light Is Sown, has shifted from the two book-length presentations that appear as the initial postings to a year-long Daybook of short postings, so I must admit that trying to analyze the results there can be inconclusive.

Thistle/Flinch exists to present book-length PDF editions of poetry and fiction, so I guess you can say that’s writing long.

And the remaining blog, Chicken Farmer I Still Love You, is still taking shape, as the numbers show. The first part, Talking Money, presents essential material for addressing the material sides of life … income, spending, wealth, possessions, labor, time, goals, and the like … followed by a close look at New England’s famed foliage. These days, it’s taken on a new focus in reconsidering the hippie outbreak and its renewal. Again, many of its postings are chapters for book-length presentation.

What I am finding in general is that even without the demands of daily employment, time is still the most precious commodity in my life. There just ain’t enough of it for what I hope to accomplish these days – including reading or writing, much less in any length.

So I guess that’s the short of it, for now.


Hometown News
Hometown News

To find out more about Hometown News or to obtain your own copy, go to my page at


We’d get the phone call. “You promised a story.” We knew we’d been very careful not to do that. Instead, it was, “I’ll look into that” or “I’ll pass that along to the appropriate editor for a decision.”

My favorite was the caller who claimed to be good friends with the publisher, who had promised the coverage. Followed by our response, “You know she died twelve years ago?” And their embarrassed silence.

Of course, it’s not just stories.

People read into the most carefully crafted texts and then respond to only the parts they want to hear while tuning out the rest. Or they just plain tune out. It’s called the theory of cognitive dissonance. If they think you’re agreeing with them, they’ll bend the message their way. If they think you’re critical, they’ll shove you out altogether.

Often, all tripping over a tiny detail or two.


Oh, how I came to hate the telephone when I worked in the newsroom! If you want further proof, just go to my novel Hometown News.

Hometown News




In the aftermath of major disasters, the wire services run a list of victims, something I used to think was to inform the editors of local newspapers of potential links to their own circulation area. But then my boss told me to run them.

“Why?” I asked. “We don’t have that much space for wire news.” Meaning national and international stories.

“Everybody’s from somewhere,” he answered. And I soon learned how true that was.

In fact, here in New Hampshire, we’ve come to expect a Granite State angle in almost every breaking story.

Small world, indeed.


Longtime visitors to the Red Barn are likely aware that I spent four decades as a newspaper editor – experiences that feed into my latest novel, Hometown News.

It’s meant working nights, holidays, and weekends – rarely on a schedule matching the general public’s. And it’s always meant “working under deadline,” where an internal clock is always racing to finish the task on time (or else!). In addition, it’s also given me some insider looks at the surrounding world itself: having a celebrity standing a dozen feet behind your back is just another regular occurrence. (For the record, they often look quite different than they do on television.) Even as a cub reporter, I saw dead bodies, got inside the county morgue, checked out small plane crashes, met ex-movie stars, faced some stiff competition from the pros on the rival paper. Looking back, I sense how often I was in over my head and wonder how I ever survived.

These experiences have also fed into the Red Barn’s category of Newspaper Traditions, where I’ve written about:

  • The best newspaper ever” The glorious final days of the New York Herald Tribune were like no other newspaper. Nothing like fighting hard to the bitter end.
  • Chancing Upon a Profession: Glenn Thompson’s influence hit me, among many others, in one medium-sized city. He had a knack for finding talent.
  • Hot Type: In the days before phototypesetting and then digital publishing, newspaper production was a highly skilled craft. Here’s an admiration for the long gone masters.
  • Living Under Deadline: When your career hangs on meeting deadline after deadline, with no room to spare, you begin to live differently from other people.
  • The Art of Writing a Headline: Trying to steer readers to a given news report with just four words can be a real challenge. Take it from a pro.
  • Editing Obituaries: Announcing someone’s death and funeral arrangements can be more precarious than you’d imagine. This post, one of the most popular at the Red Barn, became a WordPress Freshly Pressed selection.
  • Four Measures: Just what makes “news,” anyone? Here’s one take.
  • Police Calls, 10 P.M.: Well, there is some behind-the-scenes banter, even when calling the cops.
  • One Phone Call Too Many: And then sometimes the facts get in the way of what looked like a great story.
  • Local, Local: How you define “local” news can backfire when it comes to your readers. Especially when it’s boring.
  • Bias: Sometimes those who accuse journalists of being biased should first look at themselves in the mirror.
  • The Shrinking Page: Like many other products, the newspaper page has been shrinking. It’s about half as wide as it was when I entered the trade.
  • The Human Imprint: Not too long ago, the editors and publishers were well-known public figures.
  • Objectivity, for Starters: There really were some strict standards and practices.
  • Windy City Perspectives: The tower of the Chicago Tribune holds some special memories for me.
  • Painful Neutrality: Again, maintaining a discipline of objectivity comes at a personal price.
  • Free of the Entourage: David Broder was the best of the breed. I wish I’d said hi.
  • End of the Line: One of the last editors who put a personal stamp on a paper was David Burgin. Maybe that’s why he was always getting fired.
  • Get Out of the Way: Real reporters are invisible observers. TV’s imitation inserts itself on the story.
  • You Read It Here First: Plagiarism has always been a dirty practice. Here are a few examples.
  • Reality Check: When it comes to seeing “liberal media,” some people fall off the far right of the world. The one that’s still flat.
  • A Logical Conclusion: The more conservative the nation’s editorial pages become, the more circulation declines. Think about that.
  • Death in the Afternoon: The newspapers published in the afternoon once had the blockbuster circulation. Here’s why they vanished.
  • Beware of Unintended Consequences: There are times embarrassing things slip into print. Lewd expressions, especially.
  • Beware of Survey Conclusions: Marketing research can lead to bad choices. It helps to put the findings in perspective before taking action.
  • So Much for Romance: And then there was the reporter’s lament as he returned from covering a large singles’ mixer.

I invite you to visit or revisit the postings, especially if you’re new here. And I promise there are more ahead.


While we’re at it, here are some pages from the New York Herald Tribune’s final years, when it established itself in my mind as the most elegant and exciting newspaper ever. (Remember, I was still a teen and a budding journalist.)

The daily edition.
The daily edition.
And Sunday.
And Sunday.

Among the Trib’s legacy was New York Magazine, which originated as the Trib’s Sunday glossy magazine. It was classic. And Book Week reflects a time when books were really important, at least in the eyes of the informed public.

The Sunday mag.
The Sunday mag.
And the books review section.
And the books review section.


Not all of the exciting journalistic action took place in Gotham or Fleet Street or Chicago’s competitive shootouts, though.

Much of the most dedicated and innovative work emerged in small communities in the heartland where a few individuals could make an obvious difference. That’s the story I explore in my latest novel. In some ways, it’s Tom Peters’ Pursuit of Excellence meets Dilbert on steroids. It might even resemble some places you’ve labored.


Hometown News

To find out more about Hometown News or to obtain your own copy, go to my page at