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My Paper Chase

The energetic memoir of Harold Evans, a newspaperman who refuses to sing the blues.

By Justin Moyer / October 31, 2009



Read any good newspapers lately? Read any newspapers lately? If not, here’s the scoop: blogs, not banner headlines, swarm the digital frontier’s horizon, and the fourth estate has its pixels in a bunch  over the future of print media.

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Columnists spill ink weekly (well, not at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which has moved online, or the Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, which has gone dark) bemoaning the bad economy, Craigslist, the microscopic attention span of Millennials – anything that will explain their industry’s woes without reference to its fear of innovation. News itself is depressing enough. Must we now suffer down-in-the-mouth news about the news?

If anyone could be expected to join this existential journalists’ chorus, its Harold Evans. Mercifully, My Paper Chase, a refreshing memoir by the venerated editor of London’s Sunday Times and champion of pre-Thatcher British investigative journalism, jettisons hand-wringing over the “vanished times” of its melancholy subtitle for one man’s unquenchable enthusiasm for his life’s work. “I never conceived this memoir as a valedictory to a vanishing world,” Evans, now 81, writes – for this son of a middle-class railroad man, the importance of unbiased, responsible, free-flowing reportage is self-evident. If it’s not self-sustainble, that’s a problem for the accountants.

Not that Evans doesn’t wax poetic about “hot metal” typesetting, the old-fashioned, PC-free process by which metal slugs, filled with ink and pressed on paper, became the daily newspaper. Consider the author’s first encounter with Linotype machines: “[T]he floor was filled with long lines of iron monsters, each seven feet high, five feet wide, decked out with an incomprehensible array of moving parts – gears, pulleys, camshafts, levers, and bars. A man crouched in communion at the foot of each contraption.” If “communion” sounds religious, it is – Evans, a self-starter who battled British education’s stodgy promotion system, Oxbridge classism, and Northern England’s dodgy bus schedule to land his first newspaper job, is an acolyte of “the aromatic urgency of hot metal marinated with printer’s ink.” Why would a man who macheted his way to the top of Fleet Street – home to London’s “quality papers” for much of the 20th century – write about his calling with less-than-ecclesiastical fervor?

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