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Column

Disappearing act a sign of the times

Recalling the glory days of newspaper vend boxes

Scott Reeder
Scott Reeder

I love newspapers. And for the past 30 years, I’ve had a particular infatuation with the newspaper vending machine.

Oh, I know it sounds silly, but I still get a thrill out of seeing my name or photo staring out from behind the glass as I walk down the street.

But sadly, these machines are slowly disappearing from the landscape.

There are a lot of reasons for it. But the biggest reason is the economics of the industry have changed, and folks aren’t carrying around enough quarters, David Enoch, a veteran newspaper circulation manager, told me.

Instead, newspapers are relying more on convenience stores and other retailers to sell their products.

Yes, I understand business models change. But, hey, I still miss the glass milk bottles that used to be left on our porch when I was a kid. So why can’t I long for the glory days of the steel rack on the street corner?

Newspapers were designed to look good peering out from those windows.

I remember back when I was a reporter in the Quad-Cities and thought I had a big scoop, I would stay up until the competition filled their machines, just to make sure I had beaten them.

Now, of course, reporters monitor the competition by visiting websites.

It certainly is more efficient. But not nearly as much fun as driving from vending machine to vending machine at 3 a.m.

During my first newspaper job at the Galveston Daily News, I learned just how important newspaper vending machines could be.

Whenever a hurricane brewed in the Gulf of Mexico, crews would haul all the vending machines to safety before the storm hit. And, of course, once the storm was over, they’d haul them back to stand sentinel outside cafes, diners and barber shops.

One time, I had written a story on a murder case where the defendant was being retried after his first trial ended in a mistrial.

It seems a witness was a bit too honest in the first trial. A prosecutor asked why he was frightened of the defendant, and the man said, “Because he has killed before.”

It was a truthful answer, but not something the judge wanted jurors to hear.

Consequently, a mistrial occurred.

The day jury selection was to begin in the second trial, a story I had written appeared on the front page explaining why the man was being retried for murder.

The judge on the case worried that his jury pool had been contaminated.

So, each potential juror was brought into the courtroom alone and questioned about what they remembered reading in the newspaper that morning.

One older woman sat on the witness stand and was grilled by the lawyers.

The interrogation by the defense lawyer went like this:

“Ma’am did you read the Galveston Daily News this morning?”

“Yes.”

“Did you read a story about a jury being selected for a murder trial?”

“Well, yes -- but I only read the first sentence of the story.”

At this point the defense attorney nearly snarled, “You knew you were being called today for jury service in a murder trial, and you saw a story on the front page of the newspaper about jury selection for a murder trial, and you expect us to believe you only read the first sentence of the article? How can that be, ma’am?”

The woman shifted uncomfortably on the witness stand and explained: “I got to the courthouse early and saw the newspaper machine out front. I started to read the story through the little window in the machine, but I didn’t have a quarter to buy the paper.”

Note to readers: Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist. He works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area and produces the podcast Suspect Convictions. He can be reached at ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.

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