Out Out Brief Candle and the Fate of Sundays

Posted by on October 4th, 2010 at 6:28 PM

Well, as you might well have expected, I was wrong about the Grand Finish that Guy and Rodd had planned for a week’s worth of Brevity.  Only the second time in my life that I’ve been wrong. (Ooops: sorry. I was mistaken about that other time, so this is just the first and only time.) Saturday’s panel did not repeat Monday’s as a punchline. Instead, here’s what they did:

This miserable installment ends the week without Guy and Rodd once provoking a laugh. In fact, this one is not even un-funny: it’s sad and grim, a terrible reminder of the, er, brevity of our existence.

But then came Sunday:

Ha! The punchline is in the seventh installment of this tedious series. We went six days without so much as a smile, and this specimen is supposed to make up for all the abuse? And only if your paper takes the Sunday Brevity as well as the dailies. And not all papers do that.

For readers of papers that subscribe only to the dailies, the week ends on a grim wholly unfunny note. For readers of papers that subscribe only to the Sunday—and that’s the other half of the equation of syndicate marketing—they get the so-called punchline, which is, by itself, mildly amusing. But they have been deprived of the build-up that might make it genuinely funny.

No permanent damage done, I suppose.

Yes, I know: I was supposed to continue our foray into cameo guest appearances today. But the urgency that prompted Friday’s interruption of the plan continued into this week. Not only was I confronted by the Brevity situation, but then, there’s this:

I didn’t see this one coming even though I’d sort of expected it. Dreading it, more like. In the last week of September, the Mount Airy News in Mount Airy, North Carolina announced that, starting October 3, it would no longer publish the Sunday comics section. And then yesterday (according to report), the Sunday paper arrived on everyone’s porch without the funnies.

The paper cited the usual economic reasons—the high cost of syndicate fees and the dwindling financial resources of the paper: “The decision to eliminate the Sunday comics was made so the Mount Airy News can devote its resources to continuing to focus on its core mission—providing local coverage to Mount Airy and Surry County residents.”

Publisher Gary Lawrence explained: “Based on recent studies, Sunday comics have given way to other items of increased interest. Their availability on the Internet makes them readily accessible to those who seek them out. Like many other businesses and the general population, the reality of the current economic situation places us in a position of elimination of this particular item or elimination of several valuable payroll positions. In our quest to provide unique local content, we determined that keeping content-producing local personnel would better serve the community

The daily comics will continue. Even though they’re on the Internet, too.

In covering its butt, the paper alleged that in dropping the Sunday funnies, it was joining “a growing number of newspapers across the nation” that were doing the same thing. I haven’t heard of any such trend. Quite the reverse, in fact. Last winter when the Denver Post dropped a couple dozen of the comics it had taken over from its rival the Rocky Mountain News when the News died, the managing editor was interviewed on the evening tv news and said emphatically that she didn’t know any newspaper anywhere that was contemplating giving up the comics altogether. The Post’s current comics line-up numbers 43 strips and panels; it had been running over 60.

It may be too early to panic. Mount Airy, North Carolina, where Andy Griffith grew up and where Mayberry is preserved (this year’s Mayberry Days was just celebrated September 23-26), has a population of only about 8,500 souls. On the one hand, that’s not a very populous metropolis so maybe, if size matters, it isn’t big enough to start a trend. On the other hand, small town newspapers are financially the healthiest in the country, so if the Mount Airy News is hurting and to preserve its news department eliminates one of the top two reader attractions in newsprint, maybe we should start worrying. Or not.

I contacted officials at three syndicates; none of them was aware of the trend the Mount Airy News invoked to excuse its comicide. CYA to a fare-thee-well looks like to me.

Wednesday? Back to our regularly scheduled program.

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