By John Pierce
Ink got into my blood later than most who work in journalism. It was an unplanned, unanticipated second-career move — and it came at the beginning of unprecedented changes in communication technology.
Even using the word “ink” to describe the business is a bit archaic — since so much information now flows electronically. But even that shift is uncertain and incomplete.
All who work in journalism/communications are having the same conversations about how to best deliver their products — with enough revenue streams to keep the delivery going.
The questions are more plentiful than the answers.
Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, my friend and colleague Bruce Gourley — an Internet entrepreneur — has warned about giving up on print too quickly. He believes our mixed use of print and web is a good current course.
However, our conversations continue as we look at ways to use various media forms more effectively. Discussions about apps, digital downloads, pay walls, etc. have no immediate end in sight. But I find these conversations to be helpful, stimulating, and full of potential rather than fear.
Through some creativity, the superb cooperation among staff and directors, and the generosity of supporters, we have increased our print circulation significantly over the past year at the same time we are exploring new digital products and publishing books using the latest technology.
There are moments, however, when I think it would have been fun to work in the news business when ink-on-newsprint ruled the information world: digging up a story and bringing it to life just in time to hit a dark, dew-covered front porch or to be waved above-head by an earnest young paperboy standing on a busy afternoon street corner.
That thought came to mind recently when climbing around the northern end of Lookout Mountain that overlooks Chattanooga. Tucked just below the wider expanses of Point Park (part of the national military park) is the easy-to-miss Ochs Museum.
This simple stone structure offers a good view of the turning Tennessee River at what’s known as Moccasin Bend — because it’s shaped like a foot or shoe. Inside are some photos from the years following the clash of Union and Confederate soldiers there.
The name Ochs can be seen on a highway leading up the mountain as well as the ornate synagogue in Chattanooga. But it is not widely known — unless you’re digging into some newspaper history.
Adolph Ochs (1858-1935), a son of German Jewish immigrants, went from selling newspapers on the streets of Knoxville, Tenn., to owning the New York Times — turning it from a failing publication to one of great prominence.
Before moving to Manhattan and borrowing the money to buy the paper in 1896, he made his mark in Chattanooga. At the young age of 19, he took on the then-heavy debt of $250 to buy a controlling interest in The Chattanooga Times. As publisher, he turned around that failing enterprise as well — with hard work, ingenuity and a willingness to engage the communities that would form the larger readership.
There are tools of the trade now that would have caused Mr. Ochs to marvel — from digital photography to Google. While I would not want to give them up, there is something compelling, if only nostalgic, about the newspaper days of old.
So while I post this blog on the Internet — for free:) — my mind takes me to a time when knowledge was connected to smudged fingers. Makes me want to put a little card that says “Press” in my Fedora — if I had one of those as well.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.