Archive for March 20, 2017
In the gradual shift from typewriters and lead linotype machines to white film optics to computer layouts, the curmudgeon has been part and parcel of the newspaper business. Usually a growling, gray-haired male with a cigar stub in his mouth or within easy reach of while typing, the aging newspaper columnists of a golden age would take a riff on popular culture, politics, and the news of the day, offering opinion and insight.
Today, this is most often done in debate-style shows on cable news networks.
But Jimmy Breslin is likely to be the last of his kind: a writer who linked daily events to the reader through a common touch. He wrote about the sorrow of the Kennedy assassination through the eyes of a gravedigger making $3 an hour in Virginia.
He was also the kind of tabloid writer who would inject himself into a story. Such was his role in the Son of Sam murders, when a raging lunatic named David Berkowitz killed six people and wounded seven others in a deadly game of cat and mouse that alternately fascinated and terrorized the city.
Breslin published one of Berkowitz’s taunting messages, then wrote a column asking him to turn himself in. Kind of reminds you of the big-city journalists that would serve as a conduit to the police, offering a safe space to surrender, but the stakes were much, much higher in mid-70s New York.
This was a city which went all but bankrupt in 1975, saw many of its minority neighborhoods crumble and burn in rioting and unrest after a 1976 blackout, and saw its police department fall under a cloud of corruption, leading to a poor quality of life for the average citizen.
And it was a life, a vibe, on which Breslin thrived.
And given the gentrification of big-city America these days, his like is unlikely to be seen again.