Isaac Chotiner has a nice piece at TNR on Michael Frayn's classic Fleet Street novel, Towards the End of the Morning. Among his observations:
The most astonishing aspect of Frayn’s novel [published in 1967] is that so many of the dilemmas and complaints of the characters are easily recognizable today.
“He looked anxiously at the rack of galley proofs behind him. He had only seven ‘The Country Day by Day’ columns in print, and he had sworn never to let the Countries drop below twelve. He had a ‘Meditation’ column for each of the next three days—unless Winters had made a cock-up about immaculate conception, in which case he had only two and a half pieces—but he should have had a running stock of fourteen Meditations…But then what about the crosswords? He counted them up miserably. God Almighty he was down to his last eight crosswords! Day by day the presses hounded him; with failing strength he fed them the hard-won pieces of copy which delayed them so briefly. On and on they came! They were catching him up!”
So the hyperactivity of the blogosphere is not completely unprecedented. Nor is the temptation to comment on things about which you know nothing:
"Bob brooded over his book review. ‘Mr. Berringer knows his New York,’ he wrote. A wave of honesty passed over him, and he altered it to ‘Mr. Beringer appears to know his New York.’ The wave of honesty was succeeded by a wave of professionalism, and he altered it back to ‘Mr. Berringer knows his New York.”
Amen to that.
Frayn's novel was published towards the end of one kind of newspaper life and today we're reaching the end of another. Newspapermen, mind you, have a weakness for imagining and pining for the glories of an always just-past Golden Age. Why, recently, I luncheoned with a former editor of mine and we mournfully agreed that the late 1990s were, though we did not appreciate it at the time, years of fat and fun the likes of which we fear we shall not see again. We should have made more of them.
Then again, I suspect there must be many people working in other declining trades for whom journalists' constant reflections upon the evaporated glories* and shabby romance of bygone times must be exceedingly irritating. They'd have a point, too, about all this special pleading. (This self-indulgence, incidentally, was one of the things that made the fifth and final series of The Wire so much less satisfying than each of its predecessors.)
And times change. The old papers weren't necessarily as good as we like to think they were and the internet is as much an opportunity (for the reader at least) as it is a paper-killer. Cacophonous too, of course, but also expert and entertaining, to say nothing of affording opportunities to many who might never have received such a chance had the old closed-shop been maintained. On balance this is more than a good thing, even if it would still be nice to find easier ways to make it all pay...
*I mean lavish expense accounts of course. At the end of my first week in newspapers I (nervously) submitted my expenses only to have them rejected by my section editor. This was disconcerting since I d made some effort to minimise them. This was not, I soon learnt, the problem. "This newspaper does not travel by bus; it travels by taxi." Alas these days it travels by bicycle.