Sunday, August 5

Sounds of Summer

I like air conditioning. I love air conditioning. Can’t live without it. But it robs us of the sounds of summer.

For me, a summer day is sounds coming through the screen door when I was 12. A lawn mower three or four houses down (maybe Mr. Luttermoser has my pal Gary working on the front yard). Somewhere, closer, a transistor radio is on and I can hear, faintly, the gentle southern lilt of Jimmy Dudley calling an Indians game (“So long and lots of good luck, ya heah?"). Plenty of time between pitches to listen to the vendors in the background (“Beer here! Ice cold beer here!”). Makes me want to lie down on the sofa for a quick nap just thinking about it.

I delivered Jimmy Dudley’s newspaper, although I met him only once. He was always on the road. The one time I collected for the paper from him he gave me 75 cents. The Cleveland Press was 55 cents a week then: a 20-cent tip wasn’t half bad. I can still walk my old paper route in my mind, up Lincoln and down West Oviatt in Bay Village. I can still remember who the good tippers were. And I remember the folks who wouldn’t answer the door when I came to collect every Saturday, who tried to pretend they weren't home. Can you imagine that? Who’d try to stiff a 12-year-old kid out of 55 cents? Some did it for weeks at a time, then challenged my reckoning when I finally did catch up with them. I was a shy kid and hated to stand up to adults, so I sometimes got bullied out of my 55 cents. For that reason I didn’t make much money, but I learned a valuable lesson: no matter how nice the home, not everyone inside is a nice person.

If I have a point here—a point relating to the media—I guess it’s that we’re still trying to collect for the service we provide. The Cleveland Press (an afternoon paper) folded long ago. Radio has pretty much gotten out of the news business. These days radio, to paraphrase Garrison Keillor, is mostly people yelling at you and computers playing music. TV owners are scared. Even the New York Times recently sold all its TV stations to try to give itself more cash to plow into Internet news publishing, even though reports are the Times isn't making a dime yet.

If anyone has figured out a way to make money—real money—off the Internet, I haven’t seen it. But it’s coming, and we have to go with it. It's a lot easier to ride the horse in the direction he's already headed. Would you want to be a TV station owner waiting for black and white to come back?

I’m convinced that whatever direction news delivery takes next we’ll still need professionals gathering it and editing it and presenting it (in some form or another). This idea that all blogs are created equal—that all voices carry equal weight—that facts matter less than opinion--that anyone can say anything he or she wants about anyone else at any time and have "Because I SAID SO" credibility is something that we’ll work out on the fly. We always have.

But damn—it was an easier business when all I had to do was stick Jimmy Dudley’s paper in behind the screen door on the side stoop and collect my 55 cents on Saturday.