Before the internet, there was the night editor











That’s from this week’s New Yorker. (More cartoons here.)

It’s not all that accurate, though. In real life, the next frame would be one of them on the phone — usually with a few more empty wine glasses on the table — to the night editor at the local newspaper saying, “I need you to settle a bet. Who played the super on that TV show from the early Seventies? The one with the three veterinarians.”

And the night editor would know the answer because that’s what night editors know. Either that or he — invariably male — would tell the caller to screw off and hang up. Or maybe both.

Update: In addition to the comments from Lex and Steve below, I have a few from Facebook and Twitter friends. They are mainly along the lines of, “The Internet? Son, please. Still happens.”

Shannan Bowen: “I guess there are some people who don’t know how to use the Internet, because I swear I get calls like that all the time! Today someone called me to ask what kind of parking permit she needed in a particular area. I gave her the parking department’s number, because I just didn’t know the answer.”

Lorraine Ahearn: “We were just talking at dinner about the Google effect, no one has to remember trivia anymore. Like we were trying to remember the name of the guy who cleaned OJ’s pool. But we didn’t bother Googling him. That’s the Kardashian effect. When it’s not worth Googling…”

Buffy Andrews: “For me, it was the information desk at the library.”

John Cole: “The news desk at an afternoon daily where I worked decades ago routinely took calls from a woman who needed help with that day’s crossword puzzle.”

Cindy Loman: “I remember people from other states calling sports night desks to check on Nascar.”

David A. Johnson: “We’re still Google for old people.”

R.L. Bynum: “I settled bets many a night on the desk. Also got calls from parents who should have sent their kids to library!”



(Hat tip to John Cole.)

Newspapers need more columnists

These days, whenever veteran journalists at the top of their games leave the newspaper business, it’s bad. Out goes the institutional memory, experience and writing/reporting chops that readers have come to trust. Whenever a columnist leaves the paper, it’s doubly bad. Out goes the personality, wit and style that readers have come to love…or hate.

North Carolina newspapers have lost some great ones in the past few years, too. The News & Record’s Lorraine Ahearn returned to school to earn a doctorate. The same month — August 2010 — the News & Observer announced that one of its longtime columnists, Ruth Sheehan, was headed to law school.

Now, Tommy Tomlinson, columnist with the Charlotte Observer, is leaving the paper to write for a sports website. And with his typical grace, he describes what everyone who leaves a job they love feels:

Sometimes, when you’re going down the highway, you can look over and see another road running beside the one you’re on. I’ve spent a lot of time on the highway, and I’ve often wondered about those people on the other road, how the world might look from over there, how our journeys might be different even though the direction is the same.

The thing is, you can’t know unless you take the other road.

I hope the Observer replaces him. Good columnists are expensive and hard to keep in the corral and feisty. And worth every penny. As people are finding fewer and fewer reasons to pick up a newspaper, newspapers should hire more columnists. The news is everywhere; a compelling writer with a strong personality and deep insight isn’t.