Rumors of demise exaggerated

January 17, 2012

A phrase appears today above the vignette (or nameplate) on the front page of The Sun: CELEBRATING 175 YEARS.

The actual anniversary date is May 17, but the first celebration of the paper’s longevity began at midnight last night with sponsorship of the New Year’s fireworks display over the Inner Harbor. (I glimpsed some of it from a sixth-floor window.)

I bring this up mainly to mention that, despite the difficult times that newspapers are struggling through, despite the chortling of those predicting The Sun’s imminent demise,* we are still here.

The paper has survived difficulties before. It had to be extremely cautious during the Civil War, because though the readership was secesh, the federal authorities were given to locking up, without trial, people who held inconvenient views. (So little changes.) And Harold Williams’s history of the paper, published on the occasion of its 150th anniversary, points out that in the 1880s Baltimoreans were referring to The Sun as “a once-great paper.”

I know something about the paper’s greatness, having come on board during its most recent high-water mark, with all those foreign bureaux and the meaty Washington bureau and the hundreds crammed into the Calvert Street newsroom and the half-million papers sold one Sunday.

Truth be told, a great deal of money was spent foolishly when it was plentiful, and a great deal of what went into print was low-grade ore. (I kept copies. I teach an entire semester of editing with defective material supplied by The Sun’s professional journalists of the past quarter-century.)

For all that, for all its flaws and limitations, The Sun has been, and remains, a serious newspaper—not too proud, mind you, to amuse and entertain, but a paper intent on providing clear and accurate information about matters of importance and interest, trying to make sense of the world.

And as Anno Domini claims readers with the print habit, the electronic readership grows. That happens because we still provide something that readers want and need.

Not rash enough to predict that I will be on site as The Sun achieves its second century, I am rash enough to predict that when the sun dawns on May 17, 2037, some version of The Sun will also be shining.

*A curious gaggle of brassbound conservatives and hard-core end-of-print enthusiasts.

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