A toast to a newspaper
By Dale McFeatters
From the creation of the modern newspaper industry with its newsroom culture shortly before the Civil War, journalists have been loyal supporters of bars, saloons and taverns, frequently on a daily basis.
They staunchly stood by their bars even during the 13 years of Prohibition, 1920 to 1933, when selling liquor was technically illegal. But the ladies and gentlemen of the press were not about to let a technicality like a constitutional amendment trump their loyalty to an institution that had uncritically offered fellowship, conviviality and, at times, solace.
Now dark clouds are gathering over the traditional newspaper. The "business model" ― and one of the industry's problems may be employing people who use flat-footed phrases like that ― is broken, we are told.
The archetypal reporters and editors, never particularly well paid to begin with, are being replaced by even worse paid ― in some cases, unpaid ― youngsters who can turn out great gigabytes of electronic ephemera that people seem even less inclined to pay for than a newspaper delivered to their doorstep daily.
Thus, the corporate owners of newspapers in New Orleans, Birmingham, Mobile, Huntsville and Detroit are cutting back, or already have, to publication three days a week, produced by smaller staffs.
The decision was received especially badly in New Orleans where the city and the Times-Picayune have a 175-year history plus the shared trauma of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, for which the paper won two Pulitzer prizes and failed to print for only three days although it posted the full pages online.
Now the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group, owner of some of the city's top saloons and restaurants, says 20 percent of each $8 special "Save the Picayune" cocktail will go to a fund to help "adversely affected" employees of the newspaper.
One drink, the "Picayune Punch," features absinthe, rum, lime juice and pomegranate liqueur. (Hey, this is New Orleans, after all.)
Turnabout is only fair play for the liquor business to come to the aid of the newspaper business. We'll drink to that.
Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer for Scripps Howard News Service (www.scrippsnews.com).