Archive for Thursday, April 16, 2009

Newspapers fight to survive

April 16, 2009

Yes, I have been aware that times are difficult in the newspaper business. I know several excellent journalists who have lost their jobs, yet I didn’t know how tough things were. My beloved profession is in real trouble when the famous fictional journalist, Brenda Starr, lost her job.

The continuing newspaper cartoon series has Brenda, the top reporter at the “Flash” being terminated by her boss, B. Babbitt Bottomline. His excuse is that he can’t afford to pay her anymore.

Wow! It is hard to believe that the famous female reporter whose often-unbelievable adventures have dazzled comic strip readers for nearly 70 years is gone. According to a news story I found, the writers of the cartoon wanted to make it relevant and they hinted that Brenda will be around, but maybe have to do what thousands of others are doing: finding a new profession.

Decades ago when I started in the newspaper business, there were those who called any female reporter “Brenda Starr.” While not many would admit it, I suspect the comic strip played a role in their entry into journalism.

The cartoon made its debut on June 30, 1940, in the Chicago Tribune and was drawn by Dale Messick. Now the cartoon is written and drawn by Mary Schmich and June Brigman and still enjoys popularity.

The comic strip made its debut in a time when newspapers and cartoons were popular. Brenda came on the scene during the days of “Terry and the Pirates,” “Smilin’ Jack,” “Dick Tracy,” “The Phantom” and many others. As far as newspapers were concerned, the ongoing stories kept readers coming back and buying papers. It was a great way to increase readership and make money.

Through the years, the beautiful red-headed reporter has fought a variety of corruption ranging from battling Nazi spies during World War II, to uncovering a variety of plots designed to harm the nation. She was a hero in a time when there weren’t many heroes for young girls.

She spent her life pursuing the handsome Basil St. John and his experimental black orchids. Her main ally in all of her adventures was another red-headed reporter, Hank O’Hair. I always thought that name was a great play on words.

The cartoon has received a lot of acclaim and Brenda was featured on a U.S. postage stamp in 1995.

In the 1940s, she was the heroine of a motion picture serial. In 1986, she was back on the big screen in a film staring Brooke Shields as Brenda Starr and Timothy Dalton as Basil St. John. Apparently it was somewhat of a box office thud.

While I know it is make believe, it is sad to see Brenda leave the newspaper business. I had to wonder who will go next? Surely, Lois Lane and Clark Kent won’t be laid off by the “Daily Planet?” When the cartoon characters were created, the newspaper business was exciting. Many super heroes were in the print business in those days. These heroes include such famous crime fighters as the “Green Hornet,” “Front Page Farrell” and, of course, “Spiderman.”

I really don’t know why, but it has become popular to point out, “I don’t read the newspaper.” Newspapers continue to be attacked as being too “liberal” despite a number of studies showing that most coverage is fair and balanced.

What newspapers provide that others cannot is a depth of reporting. While a TV news story might be a couple of minutes long, the same story can get in-depth information in a newspaper. The dissemination of information will be greatly curtailed if newspapers fail. Newspapers have been around for at least three centuries, and I sincerely hope they will be around in the future.

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