In the Wake of Technology
Short fiction by Donal Mahoney
Forty years ago, David Germaine had been an editor with a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in a large city. After that, he had worked at many smaller papers in smaller cities because if one wanted to work for a newspaper, one had to go where the work was. And David loved newspapers.
As computers took over the newspaper business, reporters still wrote but often it was some new software that “edited” their copy, checking for spelling and grammatical mistakes but not always with accuracy. At some papers not yet fully transitioned to computers, human editors were still needed. More and more, however, as the software continued to improve, editors in cities, towns and villages grew fewer in number. And mistakes in newspapers became greater in number.
David is now retired and living on a small farm, "far from the madding crowd," as the title of a novel by Thomas Hardy once put it. He was surprised, then, when he received an email from a publisher whose books he had arranged reviews for over the years at different papers. Once again, the publisher was seeking publicity for a new book. This time, he wanted to know if David could get in touch with some of his old friends at that Pulitzer Prize-winning paper to see if someone would review his book and generate some potentially profitable publicity. As with newspapers, book publishers, those still in the business, exist to make a profit.
David thought about how long ago he had worked at that paper and he wondered about the people he knew there. He hadn’t heard from any of them in years. So he turned to the Internet to see if he could find some of them. What he found made his response to the book publisher easy to write in some respects but not so easy in others.
“Mark, I’m afraid the book editor I worked with at that paper has been dead for years. In fact, an Internet search indicates the movie critic, television critic, features editor and Sunday magazine editor are dead as well.
"The editor-in-chief, however, is still alive. I made a few phone calls and found that he is on a respirator in a nursing home in New York and will move into hospice soon. He always hired the best young people he could find and then worked them to death until they left for a better or lesser position. He was a brilliant editor but a miserable human being. Still, I’m sorry to see him go.
“I thought maybe the paper’s gossip columnist could help but he’s passed away too. He was hit by a truck while crossing an intersection. It’s true he ruined many a reputation and was mourned by few. There was no funeral according to the news item I found. His wife had him cremated. But he’s still thought of by many as the best gossip columnist ever to work that vile beat.
"Everyone else on that paper, I suspect, is dead as well or at best retired. Except for me out here in the country and the editor-in-chief on the respirator, I don’t know of another survivor from that staff. It’s still amazing how many Pulitzers they won.
"For some reason, I’m still in pretty good health, free of stents and joint replacements, perhaps because I quit drinking and smoking in 1959. That was the day I married a woman who bore five children in a little more than six years. She’s dead now too. She had a stroke in the kitchen making waffles two days into her retirement. She never got up. I saw her arm move on the floor but she was dead by the time the paramedics arrived. It’s just me in this big farmhouse now but I’m pretty good with a microwave. How did we live without microwaves in the old days, another miracle of technology?
“Although I’d love to help with the book, you can see I’m not currently in the swim of things at any paper. And as you know, it’s not a good time for newspapers. Many of them have died and others are on a respirator. People get their news on the Internet now or on television although some folks buy a paper just to read the funnies, obits and sports scores.
“If anyone I worked with back then is still in that newsroom, I’m afraid it’s because co-workers haven’t caught the stench yet or found the dust.
"I wish you the best with the book. In the attachment you sent, I can see that it underscores the role euthanasia now plays in end-of-life care. In the newspaper industry, there’s no need for euthanasia. Papers are dying regularly as a result of technology while the lives of people are sometimes saved by it. Even though I subscribe to the one newspaper still published in our area, I go online first thing in the morning to check the obituaries and sports scores. But I never did read the funnies.”