By Carter Gaddis, Tampa Bay Bloggers
We attended Opening Night of Disney’s Newsies Tuesday at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. The musical is an energetic ode to turn-of-the-20th-century labor conflict, as represented by the struggle of New York City newsboys against the profit-driven behemoth of late-18th century journalism, Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World.
It got me thinking about newspapers.
Newspapers. Remember them? Remember how vital they used to be? How important they once were in our daily lives?
I do. I remember it well.
One of my fondest memories of the late 1980s and early 1990s was scraping together enough spare change each week to buy a Sunday New York Times. I would spend hours leafing through its inky pages.
It was a ritual, and I had a routine: Pour a big cup of coffee; devour the front news section; spend a leisurely hour with the opinion pieces and essays in the Week in Review; dive into the Broadway and movie stories in the entertainment section. I would set aside the NY Times magazine and book review to peruse throughout the week.
I also would read our local newspapers, the Tampa Tribune and the (then) St. Petersburg Times. In fact, full disclosure: I once wrote for those distinguished Florida publications, including a 16-year tenure covering sports for the Tribune.
I was a newspaper guy, through and through. When I chose journalism as a profession, I thought I was taking the secure path to a long, rewarding career.
In essence, newspapers died in 2007. Everything since –including my own “down-sizing” by the Tribune in 2008 — has been decomposition.
Two main reasons: a precipitous decline in advertising revenue and circulation, related to the rise of the Internet as a means of communication and news dissemination; and unbridled greed on the part of corporate overlords who grew accustomed to huge profit margins during the boom times and whose response to declining profit was to decimate the ranks of news gatherers.
And you know what? I have a strong suspicion that massive layoffs and ruthless staff down-sizing are exactly the tactics Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst — the fathers of Yellow Journalism — would have chosen.
As I watched the struggles of Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro) and his newsie pals unfold Tuesday, I kept having these pangs of nostalgia for the way things used to be in the newspaper industry. It’s personal for me, but the decline of the news industry touches every American. I honestly don’t know what journalism will look like in 20 years.
But then, the real-life newsboys of 1899 — the kids who stood up to Pulitzer and Hearst by striking for two long, hot weeks in the last summer of the 1800s — had no idea that they were helping to move the needle for workers’ rights in the U.S. All they wanted was a fair deal and a square meal or two every day.
This show gave me a new appreciation for one of the things I love about having a Broadway-caliber performing arts center right here in the heart of the Tampa Bay community. Not only are we privileged to be exposed to world-class performers on a regular basis. We also, every now and then, are privileged to take in a show like Newsies, which combines a meaningful and important story with the best of musical theater.
Oh, and listen: It wasn’t all melancholy and memories for me Tuesday. It took me a scene or two to warm up to it, but once the story got rolling, I was able to appreciate the incredible athleticism and dynamic dance moves the cast executed with such grace and energy.
There were occasional laugh lines and excellent singing performances, as well. Morgan Keene‘s performance as Katherine on Watch What Happens was my favorite number — as a longtime journalist, I could relate to the nerves associated with an intense desire to get the story JUST right.
And the Straz Center got it just right by bringing our region this multiple-Tony Award winner. Here’s a sneak peak at the show:
Newsies is at the Straz Center through Sunday. Click here for show times and tickets: Straz Center Newsies. Tampa Bay Bloggers was provided tickets to the premier of Newsies for review purposes.