Seiler: OC Register move: For whom the digital bell tolls

Posted by on September 21, 2016 9:01 pm
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Categories: Column 2

By John Seiler

Crack of dawn, all is gone except the will to be
Now they see what will be, blinded eyes to see

For whom the bell tolls
Time marches on
For whom the bell tolls

— Metallica

The Orange County Register’s move from its iconic orange building at 625 N. Grand Ave. in Santa Ana to a nondescript office in Anaheim is more than just a trek a couple miles up the 5 freeway. It marks the changes in the industry much as the Uber app on your iPhone marks changes in hailing car rides.

Other papers have iconic buildings: The Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times. The severity of the 1992 LA riots exploded when the rioters attacked the LA Times’ building. I thought that was poetic justice as the Times’ editorial policies contributed to the city’s descent into mayhem.

linotype-machine-wikimediaIt once made sense to erect such buildings of journalistic stolidity. Reporters fanned out, brought back then news, wrote it up on typewriters, then gave their words to the operators of giant linotype machines, which turned words into lead type. It was a very physical operation. Gradually, it became less physical. Phones replaced reporting on the scene. Starting in the late 1970s, computers and composing technology — gluing sheets of type onto boards that then were photocopied — replaced linotype.

This increased profits by vast cost cutting, giving papers an artificial sense of invincibility, until they, too, were fed into the digital wood chopper.

I remember around 2000-02, Art Bell, the head of Freedom Communications, the Register’s parent company at the time, ordered everybody, “Show me the money!” It was a line from that movie “Jerry Maguire.” He demanded the 20% profits of the 1990s. Instead, bankruptcy loomed.

Today, with the Web and social media, there’s no need for journalists to be anywhere near printing presses. Hence there’s no need for the Register’s building on 625 N. Grand Ave.

But that, too, tolls the bell of the beginning of the end of print newspapers. So does the name of the Register’s parent company, Digital First Media. What will the Register be then? Will it even survive?

send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

— John Donne

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