The Monday paper will then be delivered on a computer screen or tablet or smartphone, which at some distant date will be the way all papers come to you.
But whether local news that affects you is printed on paper or by pixels on a screen, the value of journalism is a constant: accurate, credible, timely news is the food source of a healthy local government and economy.
Take that away and you will have a dysfunctional, corrupt society.
Those of us who now work at newspapers are in purgatory, suspended between heavens, the comfortable ways of the past, and some vaguely seen point when half-digital and half-paper becomes all-digital.
Meanwhile, as we adapt to a changing marketplace, we need to make the highest and best use of our resources in order to make the profit margins that will support the conversion to new ways of publishing the news.
Our youngest executives, vice presidents of news and sales, Bob Davis and Robert Jackson, accepted the challenge of reviewing everything that uses a lot of talent and resources but is unpopular with readers and advertisers.
They recommended eliminating the Monday edition and other changes even before the radical contraction to three-day delivery in Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville. Earlier, newspapers in Michigan, fearing threats to survival during the crunch of the 2008-09 Great Recession, went to three-day deliveries.
The saga of the disappearing milkman is a cautionary tale of an industry that could not adapt to changes in technology and consumer habits … and died.
In the economic boom of the post-World War II years, refrigeration technology improved so that fresh milk could be delivered to the newly emerging supermarkets and be kept fresh longer.
By the 1950s, reliable power and large refrigerators were replacing ice boxes, new appliances that kept milk and other foods fresh longer, and people were moving to the suburbs where one- and two-car families became common.
A new mobile society sprawling from cities into the suburbs spelled the decline and disappearance of a beloved character who brought fresh milk, with a note about the next delivery, and took away the empties.
In contrast to the slowly fading figure of the man with his hand-held cart of clanking bottles, changes in the newspaper industry have come abruptly. One week, major newspapers in Alabama, Michigan and New Orleans were delivering papers every day; and the next day, only three days a week.
In our case, the announced loss of the Monday edition was not met with any extravagant signs of mourning, very little rending of garments and gnashing of teeth.
A former section editor said she “mourned” the loss, and two gifted alums reacted with fond nostalgia. “Any writing life I have, I owe in some way to The Anniston Star,” said author and Pulitzer prize-winner Rick Bragg.
Frank Denton, editor of The Jacksonville (Fla.) Times-Union and editorial director of Morris newspapers, was even more generous. “A beacon of journalism,” he called us, adding, “Anniston is lucky to have the newspaper.”
Rick had written sports for two of our other papers, anonymously as far as I was concerned, but when he moved to the city side, suddenly features appeared that made me ask the editor, “Who’s this new guy; where did we find him?”
He has a talent that can’t be taught, which produced this lead (for The New York Times) on the Palm Sunday tornado that killed 20, including six children, in a nearby country Methodist church:
“This is a place where grandmothers hold babies on their laps under the stars and whisper in their ears that the lights in the sky are holes in the bottom of heaven. This is a place where the song ‘Jesus Loves Me’ has rocked generations to sleep, and heaven is not a concept but a destination.”
A story Frank wrote about the local impact of President Nixon’s family assistance plan turned up no “welfare Cadillacs.” One poor woman said, “I’d buy my daughter a new winter coat.” Others said they’d buy socks and underwear with the “welfare” money.
Society can regret the loss but thrive without milkmen. Not so newspapers, as readers are reminded in every municipal election and every time they witness the human condition revealed by writers such as Rick and Frank.
H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.