A Payphone as Journalistic Art

Whenever we stay in a hotel – as we did last night – one of the highlights is the ability to wake up around seven and enjoy a newspaper. No kids. No work. No dog. Nothing. Just us, a foreign bed, a coffee and a newspaper.

Every time, I’m reminded why great feature journalism is both inspiring and necessary.

Case in point: the New York Times’ story about one Brooklyn pay phone and the people who stop by throughout a 24-hour period.

The lede to Manny Fernandez’s article, “Listening In on a Pay Phone in Queens”:

Benjamin Patir called his son because he was lonely and, perhaps more important, because he had a quarter. Robert J. Covelli called his son, too, to find out if, at some point during the more than 24 hours he spent in custody, he had become, for the first time, a grandfather. Frank Federico, fresh from a courthouse jail cell, called his mother, who spared him any lectures and asked him if he needed a ride home.

It’s not breaking news. But it’s not a throwaway puff piece, either. It’s just pure quality. And it’s why, as long as people are willing to think creatively for stories that truly interest their readership, there will always be an audience for great journalism – either online or in print.

Now, to only monetize it in a way that continues to support the craft without placing the onus of cost on the average reader.

Check out Piotr Redlinski’s pictures in the slide show (about half-way down the page: “Still a Quarter to Call”) for shots that perfectly capture the tone of the article.

This was lovingly handwritten on February 13th, 2010