They don’t make ’em like they used to

I’ve spent more than 30 years in the newspaper business listening to endless diatribes from journalistic crustaceans complaining about how modern newsrooms are just too sissified.

Newsrooms have gotten soft and frilly and user-friendly and, er, clean. And so have their occupants, oldtimers have continually carped since shortly after the end of the Peloponnesian War.

“G’wan, willya lookit that, willya? Bwah!” they’ve groused year after year.

I’ve tried to reason with the old fellows. I’ve tried to ignore them. I’ve even tried to outtalk them (“G’wan, g’wan – shaddup, willya? Bwah!”). All to no avail.

Indoor plumbing is too damned fancy for most of these guys. So’s toothpaste…

Then, last week, something happened – I began to agree with them.

Trouble started with a simple question. While researching a story, I turned to my young newsroom cronies and politely asked the price of a pitcher of beer – nothing fancy, just average beer in an average pitcher at an average tavern.

Alas, I haven’t indulged in the foamy stuff myself ever since my liver threatened to get on the next bus for Reseda a few years back. Prices, I reasoned, must have changed over time.

I felt secure in the fact that I was in a newsroom, though, once recognized as a bastion of precision alcohol consumption. Surely my colleagues would know the cost of a pitcher of beer.

The faces were blank, the silence was deafening.

I might as well have asked for the price of a mail order bride in Ulaanbaatar.

“Uh, guys – Brewskis? Bud? Down the hatch? Pitcher? I’m sure we’re all familiar with the concept – mildly alcoholic beverage in a large container suitable as an offensive weapon under some circumstances?” I asked, my barely concealed sarcasm lost on the well-scrubbed young scribes.

Finally, one by one, they admitted that they either didn’t drink, only indulged in minuscule quantities of designer vodka or had decided to invest their beer money in no-load mutual funds.

“Beer? You mean that German stuff?” asked one goggle-eyed youngster. “My grandpa used to drink that.”

Marvelous. I’m sitting in the middle of a bona fide American newsroom in the greater San Francisco Bay Area – in the heart of S’lano County, fer gawd’s sakes – and nobody knows the price of beer.

Any one of these reporters probably could have told me the price of imported French brie, Italian mineral water or Swiss hair conditioner, but none of them had even a passing acquaintance with a simple pitcher of brew.

Not only was my story stalled, but I finally had to admit what my elders had been telling me for decades – they just don’t make newsrooms like they used to.

Eventually one red-eyed young fellow saved me by staggering through the newsroom and responding “Five or six bucks, depending on happy hour…” before slipping back into the night.

His knowledge and stalwart dedication to a fine old newspaper tradition are, of course, to be commended.

As for the rest of my alleged newspaper colleagues:

“G’wan, willya lookit that, willya? Bwah!”

Originally published May 21, 2000

2 thoughts on “They don’t make ’em like they used to

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