Coroner’s Report: Death by Column

Rest in peace, Chronicle & Transcript. I’m sorry you’ll cease publication with the December 2 edition. Yours was a long, slow journey to the print-journalism cemetery, and I’m afraid I did this to you. I take full responsibility, and I apologize.

In my own defense, my role in your demise was unintentional.

It was a little over a decade ago when Dan MacAlpine — then editor of the Ipswich Chronicle, one of the Chronicle & Transcript’s precursors — invited me to write a column. I was new to town, having spent nearly a quarter-century in the Arizona desert, and Dan suggested I offer observations on life in small-town New England from the standpoint of a newcomer. He only wanted 500 words or so, once a month. I only wish I had exercised that kind of restraint.

“Monthly!” I squawked. “Are you serious?” I was fascinated by Ipswich and the North Shore. Polite drivers! Clam wars! Town Meetings! Foeffees and farmers markets and fisher cats! “Dan! I could go daily!” I cried. “Maybe hourly!”

This is how freelance writers are: sickeningly grateful just to get published.

I started cranking out a column a week, often stockpiling multiple columns in a bulging laptop holding bin. And before long, I was pushing the besieged editor to accept 600 words, 700 words, sometimes more.

The truth is, the Chronicle was doing well, from its inception in 1872 until, well, just about the time the Outsidah came along. Even as the print-journalism world began experiencing its first digital-era contractions, the paper held on. Early in 2011, MacAlpine lost some reporters in a corporate cutback, but this move could have set the stage for the Chronicle to surge — if he hadn’t made the mistake of letting an Outsidah in.

There were points, all along the way, when the ship could have been righted. But no. The longer people were subjected to the Outsidah’s clueless commentary — on oyster-shucking and snow-shoveling and the need for a Dunkin drive-through — the more the newspaper edged toward the abyss. 

Then the contamination spread. “The Outsidah” began appearing in the new Ipswich Local News, and sometimes even in the Salem News. People began exposing themselves to the contagion by following Outsidah.com, and finding the Outsidah on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Readers’ brains were atrophying week by week, and nobody seemed to see the warning signs.

The Ipswich Chronicle was eventually folded into two other papers. Now, people in six towns instead of only one were cringing at the Outsidah’s rants about deer drug addiction and the ecology of potholes. No wonder subscription rates lagged. As the paper was sold and re-sold in a series of corporate maneuvers, you’d think at least one shrewd business bureaucrat would have spotted the speck in the X-ray and ordered a resection, or at least a biopsy. Alas, the day came when it was too late.

The Chronicle & Transcript will continue its work online. I admire this. And I will continue to support them in the cause of local journalism in the only way I know how — undermining the entire effort by offering what the Outsidah has always offered: the inane, the annoying, and the obnoxious.

For example: What’s up with that new 20 mph “safety zone” next to the Catholic church on Linebrook Road? Is this religious discrimination?


Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where the speed limit is an entirely reasonable 25 mph. Follow Doug’s real-life work at NewThing.net.

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