I probably shouldn't do this, but I'm going to let you in on a secret about the newspaper game:

Reporters are childish people. And God bless them for that trait, because it's what sustains that sense of wonder the best ones never lose.

I was as childish as anybody in the tabloid playground when I wrote for the New York Post. Like a kid on Christmas Eve, I couldn't sleep when I knew I had a good story appearing in tomorrow's paper.

So instead of waiting for tomorrow, I'd go out just before midnight and wait at Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village for the New York Post delivery truck to arrive.

It was just like they do it in the movies - maybe the only part of the newspaper game that's accurately portrayed in the movies. The truck pulls up, a bundle of papers hits the sidewalk and the vendor cuts the cord with a blade.

You stand ready with the right change, pay the vendor, grab a paper and start ripping through it to find your story. You hope for an odd-numbered page, because even-numbered pages are often missed by the reader. (Didn't know that, did you?)

And there it is, your story, with your name above it in bold-faced print. Something that didn't exist yesterday exists today, and you've got it right there in your hands.

In your hands. Three important words.

Newspaper reporters are getting fired left and right these days in an effort to save money, as publications hurtle toward an all-online destiny. In other words, paperless papers.

Funny idea, firing reporters to save a newspaper. Kind of like getting run over by an ambulance.

The point is, you can do a lot of things with a story in an online publication, but you can't hold it in your hands.

I'm thinking of Mike Pearl's hands. When it came to big trials in Manhattan there was never a better reporter than Pearl, who was a veteran when I was a rookie.

But boy oh boy, he had a rookie's enthusiasm right until the day he retired. Many chilly nights Pearl shivered with me at Sheridan Square, waiting for that first edition to hit the sidewalk.

Pearl was meticulously dressed, dapper and stylish, but there was a funny thing about his hands - they were always ink-smudged from his daily journeys through the Post, the Daily News and the New York Times.

He also got them dirty establishing his legendary "Wall of Shame," featuring his favorite front-page stories. To me, Pearl's wall was as essential a New York landmark as the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.

Could an online reporter create a wall this glorious?

I know, I know - I sound like a typical ink-stained wretch, longing for the good old days. My earliest published stories have turned brown with the years - the old newsprint is literally crumbling at the edges, something online reporters won't have to worry about.

And don't I have a hell of a nerve, complaining about online publications in an online publication?

Hey, nobody has to tell me that things will never again be as they were.

But see, I'm still a newspaperman at heart, even though I left The Post more than twenty years ago. Childish as ever, and proud of it.