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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Remembering The Courier-Express

By Dick Hirsch
After 25 years, we should be able to deal with the feelings of loss without tears. So, on the anniversary of the collapse of the Courier-Express, those old enough to remember the morning paper with any clarity, will likely be remembering it and saying how great it was.
It wasn’t great. It had its moments of greatness, of course, but it was just about average for a newspaper of its size in those days.
“It’s a damn daily miracle,” Joseph P. Molony, the state district director of the United Steelworkers, used to say on every appropriate occasion. “I open the front door every morning and, by God, there it is on the steps. Geez, I’m always surprised, but it’s always been there.”
Molony loved the paper. He loved it for its energy, its sassiness, its imagination, its derring-do. He frequently would unexpectedly arrive at night as the deadlines approached, just to cruise the City Room to kibbitz with editors and reporters, and regale them with stories, told with that twinkling brogue. He liked to compare the paper with what he often called “that dreary rag down the street.”
I earned my postgraduate degree at the Courier-Express. Right after college I was hired and put to work as a reporter, quite an opportunity for a kid with modest experience. Soon after I started, I happened to encounter an old friend of the family. He knew I was a recent graduate and asked what I was doing with myself.
“Working for the Courier,” I told him.
“No kidding,” he said. “Where is your route?”
Even now, as I think about that exchange, it makes me laugh. Yes, I was young but I learned fast and quickly proved they had made a good choice. While many of my friends were in graduate school, I was getting my advanced degree in the City Room, where I learned a great deal about newspapering and even more about people. I was long gone when it folded in 1982, but I grieved along with the rest of the community, grieved for the loss of a valued source of information and opinion, for the desolate future we would face with a single editorial voice.
Don’t misunderstand: I grew up reading both papers and always considered newspapers to be my primary source of news. But so many things have changed. Publishers then worried about competition from network affiliated TV stations. It’s a truly crowded landscape now, with news available at any moment on the Internet or cable news. Newspapers now are seeking ways to demonstrate their continued value as news sources.
In 1982, the key retail advertisers in the Courier-Express were L.L. Berger, Kleinhans and the Sample. They wanted to reach an upscale audience; the Courier accomplished that while they had no success with the Buffalo Evening News. Those businesses are all gone, and I’ve heard family members of Berger’s and Sample blame their eventual fate on the demise of the Courier, their key advertising vehicle. Meanwhile, the News was jammed with ads from Sattler’s, Twin Fair, Grant’s and Victor’s. Hens and Kelly and AM&A were primary News advertisers who also used space in the Courier. It’s shocking to realize that all those retailers are gone.
It’s ironic to think that the News today may find itself in a position in one way comparable to the Courier-Express in the 1980s. The News today appears to be enduring primarily thanks to the Sunday advertising. There isn’t much revenue being generated by the daily paper. That is the same situation that characterized the Courier; that changed when the News began a Sunday edition which captured a share of the ad revenue.
An entire generation of Buffalo readers had no exposure to the paper, but older ones remember certain favorite pages. The sports section, with all the late west coast ball scores and assorted race results, drew considerable attention, as did the political coverage and what were then known as the Women’s Pages. For years, the paper printed the list of deaths at the bottom of page one, with the full death notices inside. That was a popular space. I once heard a prominent attorney and dealmaker explain his dedication to that feature.
“I get up every morning and check to see whether my name is on the front page. If it isn’t there, I shave, get dressed, have breakfast and go to the office.”
That certainly could be called a positive way to start the day.


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