(Today’s trivia question: I’ll award one solid brass figlagee with bronze oak leaf palm to the first person who can tell me the significance of the names on the tombstone. Answer at the end of this post.)
We moved recently and I’ve been cleaning out some old files. I found this cartoon that I did in 2007 and thought I’d share it.
I used to spend a lot of time on Usenet, the pre-social media all-text message board service. Before there was Facebook, Twitter or Reddit, before even LiveJournal, Usenet was an international network of message boards. In the 1990s, it was mostly open only to corporations, colleges and universities. Somewhere in the late 1990s, America OnLine, Delphi and other Internet service providers enabled their users to access Usenet — the so-called “endless September” or “eternal September” — and the volume of traffic soon increased. So did spam, trolls, abusive conversations and everything else that has come to define our current social-media climate.
That’s right, kiddos, every time someone says “there was no way to predict that lack of moderation on social media would lead to an increase in Nazis and white supremacists,” I’m here to say that everyone on Usenet saw in, like, 2000 that unfettered Internet access to public opinion led directly to an increase in abuse, including a rise in hate groups and con artists, and eventually made Usenet almost unusable. (“Marge, my friend, I haven’t learned a thing.”)
Usenet, in other words, was an early victim of what Cory Doctorow calls “enshittification.”
Anywho, Usenet was organized a lot like Reddit — you could have groups that discussed various specialized subjects, subgroups of those groups, and threads on specific topics. One of the groups in which I was active was rec.arts.comics.strips, which (naturally) was about comic strips, both historically and current ones.
One day on rec.arts.comics.strips, in 2007, someone joked that their local print newspaper was getting smaller and smaller, and questioned who was still subscribing. Someone else suggested the subscribers to the daily print newspaper were getting older and older, and that some day soon, they’d deliver the newspapers directly to the cemetery. Someone else (Mike Peterson, who now writes the “Comic Strip of the Day” column for The Daily Cartoonist website) suggested, “That’s a good idea for an editorial cartoon.”
So I took him up on the idea and posted what you see here.
(Speaking of anachronisms, back in 2007, I was still using a straight, or dip, pen, a brush and a bottle of black India ink then. I’ve switched to Sharpies and felt-tips since but haven’t yet made the splurge for a digital tablet.)
The cartoon was well-received by my fellow Usenetters (Usenettians?) and eventually led to a short-lived gig doing cartoons for a chain of local newspapers that Mike was editing in Maine. One of the cartoons apparently wound up framed in the office of a state legislator, who showed it to then-governor, John Baldacci.
Baldacci, according to Mike, “took a look and then spun on his heels and walked away without comment.”
Back to the “Daily Anachronism” cartoon — who knew that less than 10 years later, it wouldn’t be newspaper subscribers that were dying, it would be newspapers themselves. In recent years, Western Pennsylvania has lost the McKeesport Daily News, the Jeannette Spirit, the West Newton Times-Sun, the Pittsburgh edition of the Tribune-Review, and probably others that I don’t remember. The once-mighty Youngstown Vindicator is a shadow of its former self and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is hanging on by its thumbs.
For that matter, I don’t remember the last time I saw a “motor-route tube” — that’s what those newspaper-delivery boxes are called. I guess they still exist in rural areas, amongst people who still subscribe to the local newspaper, at least.
Either way, if the idea of “the death of local news” was funny to us on Usenet back in 2007, it’s now a become a reality for many people in the United States and Canada, and it’s not so funny any more.
Trivia Answer: “Potzrebie” and “Fonebone” were fake names often used during the early days of Mad Magazine. According to Wikipedia, “Potzrebie” is derived from the Polish word, potzreba, meaning “a need,” and first appeared in the magazine in 1954. “Fonebone” was perhaps most closely associated with Mad’s “maddest artist,” Don Martin. Now that’s some furshlugginer useless information!