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Stop the Presses at last rolls on a local TV screen near you

Mark Birnbaum, Andy Streitfeld, Manny Mendoza at April 2008 showing of Stop the Presses at AFI Dallas Film Festival. Photo: Ed Bark

Metaphorically at least, ample ink already has been spilled in these spaces on Stop the Presses: The American Newspaper in Peril.

Previous posts can be found here and here and here.

Still, this is a big night for the 80-minute locally produced documentary, which has its TV premiere on Monday, Oct. 26th at 9 p.m. on Dallas-based KERA13. A national airing on PBS stations is scheduled for sometime early next year, according to publicity materials.

Stop the Presses is the work of veteran Dallas filmmaker Mark Birnbaum and former Dallas Morning News colleague Manny Mendoza, who joined yours truly and more than 100 staffers in taking a buyout in mid-September 2006. The film's principal financier is Andy Streitfeld, CEO of AMS Production Group.

A few sobering updates have been made since Stop the Presses had its world premiere in April 2008 at the AFI Dallas Film Festival. According to data from the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a total of 10,000 newspaper journalists have been laid off or taken buyouts since the film was completed. That brings the total to 14,000 since 2001. Things obviously are happening fast.

Ironically or symbolically, figures released Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations show further circulation dropoffs for the country's top 25 daily newspapers. The Dallas Morning News suffered the third steepest declines, dropping 22.16 percent in Monday-Friday circulation (to 263,810 copies) compared to the same six-month period ending in September 2008.

Worse yet, the DMN topped the list of Sunday circulation downturns, falling 19.29 percent to 390,520 copies, according to the Audit Bureau.

Birnbaum and Mendoza obviously have had trouble keeping up with all of these gloomy facts and figures. Even so, their film gets better with age, crystallizing what's happened to newspapers in recent years via an assemblage of talking heads and clips from old movies. If anything, It seems timelier than ever.

One of the many interviewees is your friendly content provider, who's not in the best of moods. Feelings were still raw when Birnbaum and Mendoza visited unclebarky.com central less than a week after the Sept. 15, 2006 buyouts. But at least they didn't show the tracks of my tears, which frankly were plentiful.

Former Dallas mayor Laura Miller, who also worked at the DMN, sets the stage by saying, "I was too much of a rebel child to have a good time at The Dallas Morning News. Rebel children don't last very long . . . although Ed Bark lasted a long time."

Cut to the curmudgeon, who remembers being "pissed off" about the mantra from higher-ups that those who didn't want to roll with the "dynamic changes" at the DMN were more than welcome to leave.

"People who are leaving are the dynamic people," I groused. "Whether you're trying to start your own web site or whether you're facing a very uncertain future, but daring to face it."

No one in upper management at Belo Corp., which owns the DMN, would talk to the filmmakers, who conducted more than 100 interviews all told. Among them are former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, humorist Dave Barry and actor Ed Asner of Lou Grant fame.

The most prominent interviewee of all, the recently deceased Walter Cronkite, was left on the cutting room floor. He was having a "bad day" articulating himself, Birnbaum explained.

Stop the Presses is impressive work from two dogged filmmakers who worked tirelessly to make it resonate. Birnbaum and Mendoza should be commended for that. They persevered, kept the faith and finally are receiving some overdue exposure. Good for them.

GRADE: A-minus