Death of Post will be like the death of an old friend
Lonnie Wheeler was the first newspaper guy I saw at Paul Brown Stadium yesterday. The Cincinnati Post columnist was heading toward the press gate and I caught up with him and gave him one of those perfunctory "How you doin'?" hellos without thinking.
"OK, I guess," he said.
I realized then how poorly I had phrased the question. The Post is one week from the end. It's not a good time for Lonnie, a real newspaper pro, or any of the Post employees, and they've had nothing at all to do with the newspaper's demise. Over the years, I've known lots of talented Post reporters, columnists, photographers and editors, and the paper's circulation always kept falling. This was in part because afternoon newspapers are no longer fashionable and in part because newspapers in general are no longer fashionable. If you've been in the business as long as I have, just the thought of it makes you want to cry.
The death of a newspaper, even one that I don't subscribe to or read every day, always seems like the death of a friend. As long as I've known the Post, it has always been the underdog, the second paper in town to the morning Enquirer. It was always like those commercials that Avis used to battle Hertz. It was No. 2 and it tried harder, as underlings tend to do, and it beat the big guys consistently. It has churned out plenty of talented people, and some of those talented people, like Lonnie, are still there. They have known this was coming for a couple of years now, but they decided to stick it out to the end. From talking to him, I got the impression that in recent days, the newsroom has become an increasingly somber place.
"Weird" was the way he described it. "It's hard to get your work done," he said. "It's like 'something doesn't feel right."
As a guy who believes deeply in the value of newspapers to the communities they serve, this never feels right. When the Reds go to spring training, no one from the Post will be there. When the Reds open the season, the Post seats in the Great American Ball Park press box, which are directly to the left of the Dispatch seats, will be occupied by someone else. Earl Lawson was a daily resident of the Reds' press box for more than 30 years for the Post, and now the paper won't have a seat at the table? Weird? Yeah, for us, too.
As it turned out, a Post reporter was also one of the last people I saw in the Bengals' press box before leaving yesterday. Trent Rosecrans, who covered the Reds for the Post last season, walked up in front of the row where Dayton Daily News' Tom Archdeacon and I were working a few hours after the game and started talking about the Post in a sad, wistful way.
Like Wheeler, he talked about how "weird" it all seemed. He likened it your high school graduation, where you know the end is coming and you may not see a lot of friends and acquaintences again. He talked and talked, like he didn't want to leave. Even though I wasn't finished and was anxious to go, I stayed until he seemed to be done, until he had gotten it all out, his concern for friends who had zero job prospects, his concern for those who were lifelong Cincinnatians and probably wouldn't leave, even though it probably meant leaving the business they love.
I shook his hand, wished him well, packed up my stuff and left. Somewhere on my sad walk between the press box and my car, my sentiment changed. I felt sorry, not for my Post friends, but for the city of Cincinnati.
Next week, it will have lost something important. I wonder how many people know it.