So I was standing by the vending machines, talking myself out of another Dr Pepper, when the guy who brings the pop and the candy and the cupcakes arrived to restock the office supply of vital junk.
On a whim, I asked him if he could possibly start carrying those fancy Starbucks Frappuccinos -- those coffee and milk and maybe chocolate drinks that come in small glass bottles and are meant to be served cold. They cost too much, I said, but it would be nice for a treat now and then. He said he’d see what he could do and, maybe a week later, showed up with a case of something similar sold under a different brand -- Maxwell House, I think -- and devoted a row of the cold food and milk machine to them.
That probably was not the reason I got fired from that newspaper a couple of weeks later.
Some months after that, the vending machine guy heard me on the radio, doing a broadcast promoting the annual food drive from a local supermarket, and tracked me down. He had me follow him to his truck and offered me, free, the two or three cases of those cold coffee drinks that nobody at the newspaper I had been working for ever bought. He was nice about it, but clearly a little steamed that he had gone out of his way to provide me with a product that nobody bought.
So I took the all those bottles back to my new office, where the general manager took one look at all that cold caffeine and said, “I guess we’ll have to cancel the afternoon nap.”
It didn’t matter how much I liked, and was willing to pay for, frou-frou milky coffee drinks out of the vending machine. If nobody else was interested in buying them -- or, after my disappearance, nobody was -- they were not going to be for sale there any more.
It is the same with breakfast cereals, restaurants, cars and newspapers. It doesn’t matter how much you like, and are willing to pay for, an Edsel, a Burger Chef meal or a box of Pep! cereal. If not enough other people want to buy those, they soon stop being available, even to the most devoted of customers.
And it doesn’t really matter that The Salt Lake Tribune has more than a few devoted readers who will very much miss the daily thud on the porch when, come Jan. 1, the daily print edition will no longer be produced. There just are not enough of them, and aren’t going to be enough of them, to make it sustainable.
The announcement of that big change was made Monday by The Tribune’s board of directors. But the decision was made by you, the marketplace.
It’s not that The Tribune, or the Deseret News, is going away. Far from it. Both newspapers, er, news organizations will be putting out a new and improved weekly print edition to be delivered by mail. And each of us is doubling down on efforts to deliver more and more news and information and opinions and amusements online, not just because we want to but because you want us to and, hopefully, are willing to pay for through online subscriptions and donations to our nonprofit board.
If you didn’t, you would still be subscribing to the dead-trees version rather than driving our online readership ever higher.
I’m still enough of a fuzzy-headed old socialist to deny that markets have wisdom. But they do rule.
Witness those commercials we’re seeing on sporting events heralding the imminent arrival of the all-electric Mustang sports car and Hummer SUV. Those aren’t coming because our industrial giants are worried about climate change, even if they are. They are coming out because Ford and General Motors have read the future, evaluated the markets, market-tested life in a post-fossil fuel world and decided that electric cars are the future. Even for people who like Mustangs and Hummers.
When the president promises to defend the oil industry, when members of the Utah Legislature keep trying to find markets for Carbon County coal, they are not respecting reality or the marketplace. They are deep in the same kind of denial that the newspaper industry is slowly but surely struggling free of.
And those vending machines at that newspaper I worked at 20 years ago? I imagine they are long gone, as the newspaper has changed owners, the presses sold for scrap and the building purchased by some operation that still needs an office.
The news business, no matter the technology in use, is supposed to be about keeping up. We should be able to figure this out. Hope you will come with us.
George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, is shocked at how little he misses reading print newspapers.