Post Mortem

Though not unexpected, the death of the Houston Post was still a surprise. Even more surprising was how little truth got out about how and why the paper perished.

"The Chronicle is going to have to step up now -- they're going to have to cover this community like it's never been covered before," he says. "This is a diverse city, and we can't just defer to the Post anymore."

Maybe there's no reason to worry about that, because maybe it doesn't matter much. Maybe saying that a little bit of a city dies when a daily newspaper dies is to indulge in an outdated and overly romantic notion, like pining for a rebirth of Main Street or wishing for a return of the Rice or the Shamrock hotels. Maybe no more should have been made of the loss of 1,000 good jobs than was made of the layoffs that recently struck employees of Continental Airlines and Texas Commerce Bank.

After all, nobody would ever have mistaken the Houston Post for a great newspaper, although on any given day it might be a good newspaper, or at least as good as its competitor. Near the end, though, those days were few and far between. And throughout its modern history -- even after the Hobbys unloaded it and the paper passed through the hands of two out-of-town owners -- the Post still paid deference to the city's ruling establishment and never really made much of its oppositional role to the Chronicle. It did provide a counterpoint to the relentlessly negative coverage of the administration of Mayor Fred Hofheinz and the early days of Mayor Kathy Whitmire that the Chronicle, under the ownership of the Houston Endowment, purveyed. But it had pretty much abdicated that role in its final days, when it was left to the Hearst-owned Chronicle to provide the few critical appraisals of Mayor Bob Lanier's administration to appear in the local daily media.

Then again, when you consider Lanier's amazingly candid comment on the death of the Post, it really brings home how much it does matter. Lanier, a onetime journalist who mistakes uncritical unanimity and passive consensus for signs of civic health, said this:

"Actually, two newspapers may produce a climate that's a little more negative. With one newspaper, they don't have to respond and outdo each other."

In other words, Lanier -- whose complaint to the Chronicle about a recent front-page story led to its killing between editions -- expects to find the climate hospitable in a one-paper town.

And consider the comment made to Channel 13's Deborah Wrigley as she buttonholed Chronicle employees outside the paper's building on the day the Post ceased publication. Few would offer any comment on the end of a decades-long war in which they had been foot soldiers because, as one of them explained, management had asked them not to.

Why? asked Wrigley.
"They want one voice," he explained.

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