London’s Fleet Street was the legendary and historic home to Britain’s major newspapers, and the bars that kept them going for more than 300 years.
But on Wednesday, the street’s journalistic legacy came to an end, as Reuter’s departed the Fleet Street headquarters the news agency had held since before the Second World War.
Papers including The Sun and The Daily Telegraph lined Fleet Street in massive buildings. Newspaper alums recall that the building would start to shake when the industrial presses started to grind. Then, at night, delivery vans clogged the streets to collect the day’s papers and begin distribution.
When technological advances made newspapers less expensive to produce, the industry experienced a shift in production from in-house publishing plants to regional printing centers. Media moguls moved their publications to cheaper and more modern facilities further from the city’s center. Today, the area is known as a legal and banking center. The building that once housed the Daily Telegraph is now home to Goldman Sachs. Duke graduates probably work there.
The ones who suffered, they say, were the journalists, who felt they were kicked out of their village. Fleet Street had evolved into a gritty members-only club in which booze-fueled journalists would congregate in pubs with names like The Scab and Ye Old Cock Tavern to talk, unwind, cajole and fight. Alcohol was the fuel that fed Fleet Street’s finest.
“What Fleet Street had was a certain film noir glamour,” said Kim Fletcher, editorial director of the Telegraph group, who worked on the street in the ’80s. “Being film noir is slightly seedy but certainly exciting.... Society-reporters might still be wearing trench coats and they might still be drinking too much.
“This was not a time when journalists went jogging on their lunch hours.”
So imagine the chuckles that must have risen when the former denizens of Fleet Street learned that Reuters had organized a church service to commemorate the area’s history.
“It seems funny that for such an unholy profession, they’re having a farewell ceremony blessed by God,” said Mike Molloy, a past editor-in-chief of the Daily Mirror.
A priest and a rabbi (no joke) presided at the interfaith service at St. Bride’s Church, known as the journalists’ church, and Rupert Murdoch read an excerpt from scripture.
The small church was filled to capacity with suit-wearing journalistic aristocracy and fatigued working reporters. We of the latter caste tried to maintain a reverent air while holding up microphones and noting every spoken word. The priest, who called the church the “spiritual home of all who work in the media,” said the feeling of administering the last rites to the old Fleet Street was appropriate.
“Fleet Street, as the geographical home of the press, is now a deserted village, full of ghosts and memories everywhere,” he said.
I don’t go to church often… by often, I mean ever. But it hit me, during the choral rendition of the Beatles’ “In My Life,” that I was witnessing an extraordinary moment.
After the ceremony, I followed the group that knew where to go to the dim, wood-paneled Press Club for drinks and reminiscence. It was as if they were determined to raise the ghost of Fleet Street for that one last drink.
But I didn’t know anyone at the reception. I, whose primary consideration when getting dressed had been to grab something clean that wouldn’t get soaked in the morning downpour, found myself lost in a sea of mogul suits.
Truth is, I’m not ready to stand in a group of established newspapermen and remember when. I left the reception, prodded in the back by someone, whose companion said, ‘Make way, editor of The Sun!’
My heels clicked as I walked away down Fleet Street. I made my way back to the bureau to finish the story. To do Fleet Street’s work.
Emily Rotberg is a Trinity junior.
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