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.