The Poet Community

In the Wake of Technology | A Poem by Donal Mahoney

Forty years ago, David Germaine had been an editor with a Pulitzer
Prize-winning newspaper in a large city. After that, he had worked at
many smaller papers in smaller cities because if one wanted to work
for a newspaper, one had to go where the work was. And David loved

As computers took over the newspaper business, reporters still wrote
but often it was some new software that “edited” their copy,
checking for spelling and grammatical mistakes but not always with
accuracy. At some papers not yet fully transitioned to computers,
human editors were still needed. More and more, however, as the
software continued to improve, editors in cities, towns and villages
grew fewer in number. And mistakes in newspapers became greater in

David is now retired and living on a small farm, “far from the madding
crowd,” as the title of a novel by Thomas Hardy once put it. He was
surprised, then, when he received an email from a publisher whose
books he had arranged reviews for over the years at different papers.
Once again, the publisher was seeking publicity for a new book. This
time, he wanted to know if David could get in touch with some of his
old friends at that Pulitzer Prize-winning paper to see if someone
would review his book and generate some potentially profitable
publicity. As with newspapers, book publishers, those still in the
business, exist to make a profit.

David thought about how long ago he had worked at that paper and he
wondered about the people he knew there. He hadn’t heard from any of
them in years. So he turned to the Internet to see if he could find
some of them. What he found made his response to the book publisher
easy to write in some respects but not so easy in others.

“Mark, I’m afraid the book editor I worked with at that paper has
been dead for years. In fact, an Internet search indicates the movie
critic, television critic, features editor and Sunday magazine editor
are dead as well.

“The editor-in-chief, however, is still alive. I made a few phone
calls and found that he is on a respirator in a nursing home in New
York and will move into hospice soon. He always hired the best young
people he could find and then worked them to death until they left for
a better or lesser position. He was a brilliant editor but a miserable
human being. Still, I’m sorry to see him go.

“I thought maybe the paper’s gossip columnist could help but
he’s passed away too. He was hit by a truck while crossing an
intersection. It’s true he ruined many a reputation and was mourned
by few. There was no funeral according to the news item I found. His
wife had him cremated. But he’s still thought of by many as the best
gossip columnist ever to work that vile beat.

“Everyone else on that paper, I suspect, is dead as well or at best
retired. Except for me out here in the country and the editor-in-chief
on the respirator, I don’t know of another survivor from that staff.
It’s still amazing how many Pulitzers they won.

“For some reason, I’m still in pretty good health, free of stents
and joint replacements, perhaps because I quit drinking and smoking in
1959. That was the day I married a woman who bore five children in a
little more than six years. She’s dead now too. She had a stroke in
the kitchen making waffles two days into her retirement. She never got
up. I saw her arm move on the floor but she was dead by the time the
paramedics arrived. It’s just me in this big farmhouse now but I’m
pretty good with a microwave. How did we live without microwaves in
the old days, another miracle of technology?

“Although I’d love to help with the book, you can see I’m not
currently in the swim of things at any paper. And as you know, it’s
not a good time for newspapers. Many of them have died and others are
on a respirator. People get their news on the Internet now or on
television although some folks buy a paper just to read the funnies,
obits and sports scores.

“If anyone I worked with back then is still in that newsroom, I’m
afraid it’s because co-workers haven’t caught the stench yet or
found the dust.

“I wish you the best with the book. In the attachment you sent, I can
see that it underscores the role euthanasia now plays in end-of-life
care. In the newspaper industry, there’s no need for euthanasia.
Papers are dying regularly as a result of technology while the lives
of people are sometimes saved by it. Even though I subscribe to the
one newspaper still published in our area, I go online first thing in
the morning to check the obituaries and sports scores. But I never did
read the funnies.”


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