I have been preoccupied with the state of the American newspaper. Or, print media, in general, which seems to be endangered and in threat of extinction. What would happen to Jimmy Olsen and Clark Kent should the Daily Planet shut down? Would they become bloggers with their news reporting floating in a cesspool of random information written by just anybody? I think the Spin Doctors need to record a revised lyric version of the song Jimmy Olsen’s Blues. Forget Jimmy’s jealousy toward Clark Kent for romping around with Lois Lane in telephone booths – it’s the end of the newspaper! For some, it’s akin to the end of the world. Would Superman come to save the day?
I think about iconoclastic headlines that have nursed our young history. “WAR IS OVER!” following the world’s worst war in 1945. Or, the coined phrase “McCarthyism” by Washington Post cartoonist Herbert Block, printed just days after the wheeling speech of a young Senator from Wisconsin, whose accusatory witch hunt laid a dark veil over the Cold War. And, the shocking news that commenced the downfall of America’s Camelot: Kennedy Assassinated, Johnson Takes Oath. Not to mention the thousands of newspapers in the U.S. and around the world reporting three astronauts, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, had landed on the moon. In my lifetime, I personally remember the Washington Post’s coverage of the Iran Contra affair; Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative whetted by the fear of nuclear holocaust; the impossible fall of the Space Shuttle Challenger carrying onboard its first civilian, teacher Christa McAuliffe; the Gulf War; President’s Clinton’s sex life and Impeachment; and most hauntingly, the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001.
My mother had kept copies of her local newspaper printed on the day it was announced that Kennedy had been assassinated. I kept copies of the Washington Post on September 12th, 2001, the day after the tragic fall of the Twin Towers and subsequent airplane crashes into The Pentagon and on an open field in Pennsylvania. I was living in Crystal City at the time, and had been stranded overnight at my friend’s apartment near Macomb Street in the northwest. The paper was the first thing I picked up the following morning, in a stand outside of Starbucks.
These newspapers are not merely casted nets that have captured thousands of words in a sea of our language. They are relics. To print out these stories on computer paper is nowhere near being the same thing.
I am not suggesting that we not use the internet to further our outlets for communication. I am a blogger, after all, and I take full advantage of publishing my writing online. But, I am also a hopeless romantic and a preservationist. There’s poetry to opening up a newspaper, or a book. There’s the initial anticipation that brews when first breathing in that freshly imprinted scent of ink on the page. There’s the mystery of that tissue fiber-thin page that holds the weight of so much content. And, of course, the bleed of ink that smears its carbon print on your finger tips, like ashes from church.
I am always stymied by the incredible efficiency of newspaper production around the world – how do they gather the latest, breaking news and generate full stories ready for print, to output in mere minutes, insuring global distribution first thing in the morning? I have immense respect and awe of our newspaper reporters, editors and printers. They are as fantastic as worker bees in the honeycomb. Think about it! Every day, they never fail to produce a timely, almost clairvoyant collection of critical information, our history, our legacy.
I wonder, in this climate of near extinction, who is going to protect our worker bees? Who is going to protect our honey?