When you pick up a newspaper you simply see the public face. They have long been complex institutions. My family had a history in the business.
During the early 1950s my father was publishing a group of five weekly newspapers in southern Ulster County. He bought them for $2,500 in 1951 from a motivated seller. He had been the general manager for the Hudson Valley Newspapers that had a plant on River Road in Marlborough. It was a ramshackle place but had a deep history in that community. If he could move the plant from Milton to Highland they were his.
It’s long been known that 90% of new businesses fail in their first year but once when newspapers get traction they are remarkably difficult to kill. The newspapers he bought were examples of “the refuse to die type.” The oldest two were the Marlborough Record founded in 1885 and the Highland Post in 1890. The "new" ones were the Southern Ulster Pioneer , and Wallkill Valley World  and the New Paltz News .
Country newspapers in that era were wedded to a dying technology: hot metal composition. My father was a gifted salesman with a seductive smile but hot metal was staggering to its demise and he was staggering too. If you had a skilled crew they could manage through the breakdowns but such men were rare and valuable to the daily newspapers that were always shorthanded. The king of that crowd was the linotype operator. The Mergenthaler Linotype was the gold standard for setting type in lead and he trained a kid who became a magician with his linotypes. In 1954 the Poughkeepsie Journal hired him away. My father was making $80 a week and he lost his prized student to an offer for $160. My father never fully recovered.
He needed to sell advertising during the day and set type overnight. He became suicidal, lubricating his disaster with alcohol. He crashed 7 cars over a 3 year period. He tried very hard. He didn’t quit and in time my mother Adelaide became their editor.
His life was a very public disaster and the communities he served made allowances for his battle to survive.
A resolution appeared in 1958 with the introduction of off-set composition and printing. By 1961 he abandoned hot lead and focused on selling advertising and within a few years was starting to make as much as his Linotype operator demanded 10 years ago.
It was trial by fire.
In 1962 he sold his hot metal shop for $14,500, barely more than half of what he paid to buy his new Mergenthaler Linotype in 1953.
That machine was “3,000 moving parts” in a master’s hands and a disaster with too little sleep and too much alcohol.
My father, Thomas Craig McKinney, took on that challenge and took his family on a ride to hell and back. I hated him for that hell but, at 76, I know where I got my backbone.
In a few years we’ll lay nearby together and I’ll be proud to say he was my father.