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Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Deadline: A Story of newspapers filled with nostalgia, love and sorrow

Deadline Newspaper

This is what Will Steacy has to say about his book Deadline, a book (?) that is about the death of a newspaper, the death of the newspaper industry, the death of the family business.

 'It has been a long gut-wrenching journey, but sometimes the hardest pictures to take end up being the most important pictures.'

It's a quote that recognises that, Austin Powers mojo-monkeys beside, great photography is never that simple; it involves difficult choices, hard work, dedication, and a mind that goes directly for the story has some kind of meaning. In the case of Deadline, it's a meaning that connects to family, to work, to a way of life that is dying. So it's very personal.

Deadline Newspaper

'When we lose reporters, editors, newsbeats and sections of papers, we lose coverage, information, and  a connection to our cities and our society, and, in the end, we lose ourselves. Without the human investment to provide news content it becomes a zero sum game on the information highway to nowhere. The fibers of the paper and pixels in the screeen are worthless unless the words they are presented on have value.

The newspaper is much more than a business, it is a civic trust.'

Those words are in the lead story of Will Steacy's Deadline, a lament to  'America's fastest shrinking industry', the newspaper business, and is told through the shrinking circulations and lay-offs at The Philadelphia Inquirer, a newspaper that had risen from nowhere to become one of North America's most influential publications.

Will Steacy's father, Tom, worked at the newspaper and for 4 years, from 2009 until the newspaper's closure in 2012 through to 2013, His grandfather was there before him and Steacy photographed both for the newspaper and, as the end loomed near, for this project; the newsrooms, the printrooms,the furniture, the meetings, the announcements, the redundancies, the end!

Deadline is published as a newspaper. It's laid out like a newspaper, and it's filled with type as a newspaper should be. And it's a big newspaper, like a weekend edition that comes in five sections; there's the main section which gives an overview, the Golden Age section (the 1970s - the 'Pulitzer years'), the Family Business section (which features archive material from 3 generations of Steacy involvement with the newspaper), the That's the Press section (how the newspaper is actually printed and made), and the Farewell, Tower of Truth section (the architecture of the ending).

It's full of text by former Inquirer staff. So there are stories on former editors, on turning points in the newspaper industry, of key stories in the paper's history, on how the newspaper is made, how advertising is sold, and how and why the Philadelphia Inquirer ultimately ceased to be.

Interspersed in there are pages of Steacy's pictures; a series on an editor's desk space shows the newsroom around him getting emptier and emptier until finally the newspaper is closed and all we can see is a dead office space denuded of sound, life, inquiry.

Another series shows the production process; the paper, ink and rollers of the printing presses. There are images from the newspaper archives to go with this, along with personal recollections of the days when the paper was printed on site in 'The Tower of Truth', side by side with the newsroom, the production and printing of news co-existing side by side.

The Family Business section is an archive of family photos and documents. It could have been a book in itself It's personal and links Will Steacy to the traditions his family (his family have worked in newspapers for over a century) passed down to him. 'When I began this series in 2009, I never expected to watch my father get laid off,' he writes, 'I never expected the staff and budget cuts to continue as mercilessly as they did... and I never expected my father's career to end when it did.'

I was a bit doubtful when I got Deadline. I love newspapers. I buy them everyday (except Sunday) and have done all my life. Internet news, or social media do not compare. You do not read them the same, and there is something ephemeral about words that appear on the screen that is not the same as those printed on paper. We read them differently and we understand them differently.

Initially I thought the problem with Deadline would be that it's like a Weekend Edition. There are five different sections. And when I think of weekend editions, I think of the initial process of sifting that I go through before I even start to read. It generally goes something like this. Chuck the motoring, the property, and the business (in the UK, but not in other countries) Start with sport, next comes the main, then the mag, and finally the family section and review. Cookery sections are for flicking through and drooling and scoffing at in equal measure.

So I expected there to be a lot of detritus. But there's not. It's all eminently readable. It's a combination of a paean to a great newspaper (old headlines, stories and headlines are reprinted), but also a history of the industry, and a meditation of what the future might look like.

There are many very good photographic works like The Pigs by Carlos Spottorno that mirror some elements of the design of magazines (The Economist in Spottorno's case), but Deadline goes much, much further. He has made something that is text-led but with pictures that serve a purpose too. They blend in with the newspaper format throughout and link the present to the past in a way that is both nostalgic yet contemporary, and with a personal angle. It all makes sense in a way that goes beyond the pragmatic and is filled with nostalgia, love and a deep, deep sorrow.

It's not a photobook in the usual sense (or the sense talked about in this post). There's no point in buying it just for the pictures. That's not what it's about. You have to read it. And you should read it because the stories that are told are fascinating, written with a more personal touch than your usual journalese (though the dramatic overtones do occasionally come through), but dripping with different layers of history; the personal, the political, economic, and family. Deadline has a point to it. It tells a story that is happening now, and it tells it brilliantly!

Buy Deadline here.

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