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Phillip's Lunchtime Musings, Nov. 17

My first newspaper memories are from when I was a young child. My older brother and I would go with my father to The Birmingham News on Sundays. I can still see the ceiling fans twisting slowly, the old upright telephones and black Underwood typewriters.

Phillip Marshall, Senior Editor,

A kind switchboard operator named Brownie would let my brother and me plug in the cords and ring telephones in empty offices. We would draw pictures on newsprint with big, black editing pencils.

That was more than half a century ago. Later, when I became a newspaperman, the business wasn’t all that much different. That didn’t last long. The computer age changed the newspaper business like it did everything else, but nobody could have foreseen the Internet and the impact it would have. Especially, no one could have foreseen that it would it would basically destroy the newspaper business as it existed for most of the 20th century.

My father and the other men and women who worked at The Birmingham News in those days would not recognize the business today.

From October 1969 until July 2008 I worked for newspapers in Alabama and was proud to do it. Now, the proud profession called journalism has changed beyond recognition – in some ways for the better and in some ways not.

Certainly, the access to news around the clock is a benefit to consumers. No question about it. But the rush to all things being online has changed things in a fundamental way.

I used to laugh when people would say that a story was written “just to sell newspapers.” Reporters didn’t write stories to sell newspapers. The rise and fall of circulation figures had no impact on us. Most of us did it because we loved it. We competed fiercely with each other for stories, yet most of the best friends I’ve had in my life were other newspaper people.

It’s very different now.

Web sites, including this one, survive on mostly subscribers, not on advertising. The temptation is strong to write whatever will make people click. And there’s no doubt the Cam Newton story has generated millions of page views for numerous web sites in the past two weeks.

And then you have Twitter, which seems to be out of control. Just this morning, it was tweeted that I had said Newton could be cleared by the end of the week. Like so much in this saga, that’s kind of true, which shouldn’t be enough. If you read the Q&A I did this morning, I said he could be cleared or ruled ineligible or allowed to play as the investigation went on. But all the Tweet said was I wrote that he could be cleared by the end of the week, creating a firestorm. Unbelievable.

When I took this job, I told Jamie Sablich and Ronnie Sanders that I was a newspaperman and that I was too old to change. I told them I would approach covering the news for in the same way I approached covering the news The Huntsville Times, where I had worked for the previous 17 ½ years. And that’s what I’ve tried to do.

My promise to all of you is that I will continue to do that, no matter where this story and other stories lead. I will tell you the truth, good or bad, as best I know it. I will offer my opinion, but I will not offer idle speculation based on nothing.

To do it any other way would be to not be true to myself and to my father’s legacy.

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