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Many happy returns, Baltimore Sun

In the spring of 1837, the elderly William IV was in failing health, about to be succeeded by the eighteen-year-old Victoria. The United States was undergoing one of its periodic financial crises, with the Panic of 1837, which began on May 10, touching off a five-year depression. And a week after the panic began, on May 17, a young printer named A.S. Abell and his partners established a newspaper in Baltimore, The Sun.*

Sumner Redstone, the eighty-six-year-old chairman of Viacom, predicted recently that there “won’t be any newspapers in two years,” to which someone tartly predicted that newspapers are still likely to be around longer than Sumner Redstone.

I’m no haruspex,** so you won’t get predictions about the future of newspapers and journalism from this quarter. That The Baltimore Sun has been a going concern for 173 years is no guarantee of its continuance. Nostalgia is not a business model. That the company now calling itself the Baltimore Sun Media Group actively pursues journalism and revenue electronically as well as in print does not guarantee continued success. No one appears to have figured out how to do that.

What I do know — and this has been amply confirmed in the two weeks since my return to Calvert Street — is that my colleagues are working as hard as they know how to gather and present accurate information to you in both print and electronic forms. After the painful contraction of the past couple of years, The Sun has cautiously expanded, adding sections on business, art, and entertainment. Presumably there will be additional efforts at expansion if revenues continue to improve. We want to do more, and do it better.

So we’re not dead yet. Far from it. Those of you who would pronounce mournful eulogies over The Sun (as well as those who would gladly dance a jig on its grave) can put away the black crape. Today is a birthday, not a funeral.

*The depression of the late 1830s was hardly the only rough patch the paper has negotiated. During the Civil War Mr. Abell had to be circumspect in what he published, lest the Federal authorities chuck him into the penitentiary along with other Marylanders thought to be overly sympathetic to secession.

**All right, all right. Haruspication is the practice of divination by inspecting the entrails of animals; the haruspex was the Roman soothsayer who presided at this ritual.

Posted by John McIntyre at 10:57 AM | | Comments (12)


John, you wrote, " colleagues are working a hard as they know how..."

A small edit, if I may presume Sir. I believe your colleagues are working *as* hard as they know how.

What do you get someone for their 173rd birthday?

Another small edit you might make: you're missing the second asterisk for your second footnote.

Re: What do you get someone for their 173rd birthday?


Crape or Crepe?

Both are possible. Crepe is a crinkled fabric (or a pancake); crape is specifically a band of crepe fabric worn as a sign or mourning.

If it survived the Civil War, the Great Depression, and the Carter Administration it is certainly resilient! The Sun has to find a way to turn the paper version into a marketing letter for the web version. I apologize to the traditionalists out there, but times have changed. The Sun has to find a way to make itself a bookmark on our Blackberries and laptops now.
Rupert Murdoch is charging for Internet news. You might not like that idea, but it may well save journalism. I might have to make amends with Uncle Rupert some day.

A happy birthday to the Sun and congratulations on your return.

Roman? I thought the haruspices were Etruscan.

The word was originally Etruscan, but both the Etruscans and Romans practiced haruspication.

A bit of usage esoterica... when I was growing up on Maryland's Eastern Shore in the early 1960s, the death of a prominent merchant (or bank director, etc.) was announced to the general public by the hanging of a basket of flowers at the establishment's entrance. This basket was referred to as a "crape," as in " I saw the crape at the bank this morning; old Mr. Jones must've died." I don't know how widespread this practice was. It is certainly no longer the custom in my hometown.

While crepe comes in many colors, I always thought that crape was black by definition, so that black crape would be redundant, no?

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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