Newspapers are dying. The closing of the Rocky Mountain News last week was a sign of how bad things have gotten in the business. I spent five years writing for the New York Sun before they stopped printing last September, and like it or not, many other and bigger papers will suffer the same fate. The current economy doesn’t help, but the root cause of the problem is a business model that just doesn’t work any more. Paper and ink dailies just don’t make sense.
Over the past few days, as news outlets relay the saga of the four athletes recently lost in the waters off of Clearwater, Fla., a handful of people have found themselves sent back through time, to a nightmare eerily similar in geography and circumstance to the one of present day.
On Feb. 28, 2009, two NFL veterans, Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith, along with former University of South Florida players Will Bleakley and Nick Schuyler, were anchored 38 miles offshore, fishing, when rough waters capsized their 21-foot boat.
On Oct. 30, 1983, three Red Sox minor leaguers, [Tony] Latham, John Mitchell and Scott Skripko, along with Mark Zastrowmy, a native Floridian and owner of the boat, were roughly 10 miles offshore, fishing, when rough waters capsized their 17-foot boat.
In 2009 three of the men were apparently lost, while the fourth, Schuyler, survived by holding on to the side of the boat for more than 30 hours.
In 1983 two of the men, Latham and Zastrowmy, were lost. Skripko, an outfielder, survived by holding on to a cooler for 20 hours, while Mitchell, a pitcher, survived by holding on to a bucket for 22 hours.
STEP 8: I again turn to Nexis, and look up people named “Latham” in Robersonville, N.C. Forty-three names pop up. I call the first, ask if she’s related to a Tony Latham who played baseball. “I wish,” she says. “I could use the money.” I call the second. An older woman answers. “My name is Jeff Pearlman,” I say, “and I write for Sports Illustrated’s website. I am looking for anyone related to a baseball player named Tony Latham.”
“Well,” says the woman, “I don’t know a Tony Latham—but Anthony Latham was my son.”
We proceed to speak for 30 minutes (or so). She is a wonderful interview—sad and reflective, good memory. She gives me the number of her second-oldest daughter, Vickie, who I call shortly thereafter. She, too, is excellent—and even provides photos.
In the span of, oh, an hour, I’ve gone from having nothing about Tony Latham, to having his entire life story.
Pearlman is a great writer, and he reminds us why good reporters will always find an outlet, even if (when) newspapers disappear completely. At the end of the day, it’s not about the medium. It’s about telling compelling stories.