August 31, 2020
By Arthur H. Gunther III
Rituals in our lives change, but that does not mean they are easy to get used to. They are even tougher to accept. Here I was in another town, USA, the location no less important than any, communities where life begins, passes, ebbs and flows in between. I was expecting 1980 or thereabout to remain the ruling time, but it was 2020, and I just did not get it.
An early-morning ritual is to take a walk, have java and read the local newspaper. And so I sought a paper. But there was none at 6:30 a.m., long after morning editions have gone to bed, to press.
I asked a very polite but matter-of-fact store clerk when the newspapers might arrive, and I was told, “When the man gets here, he gets here.” In other words, the news, the information that impacts our lives, which entertains, saddens, enlightens, exposes charlatans and connects us to the full range of human emotions, and which once would await no man’s delay under deadline tradition, would now “get here when it got here.”
I was an active newspaperman for four decades and remain one in soul. Never missed a deadline, thank you. No bragging – the first rule of newspapering is to get the info out on time, quicker than that, if possible. We all did it, do it.
Now, many deadline clocks no longer tick louder and louder at the pressman’s hour. They are still. The daily printed word, the “who, what, where, when, how, why” of public meetings, government contracts, local sports, national and world news, and, yes, oh yes, presidential elections does not make deadline. Newspapers fold and fold, victim of the long trend of fewer print readers, consequently reduced advertising revenue and information delivered in bites rather than full length via Smart phones and iPads, blogs, Twitter, Facebook and TV/radio.
Sad, for a much fuller report can be had in print, all the better to be informed in a democracy that you want to keep. If a foreign power sought to dumb down a nation and have its people thrive on falsehoods, misinformation and gossip; if it wanted to turn elections toward zealots who build and keep a base by fear, then it would back hedge funds and other “investors” that buy declining newspapers and close them down for asset profits. You see, democracy dies in darkness, and that is the aim of some foreign powers. It is also the goal of some within these United States.
While I waited in a strip mall parking lot for the paper delivery guy to get there, I saw descendants of folks like me, but they were not buying papers as their dads and granddads did or still do. Instead, they were in their cars, lined up at a bank, at ATM machines, to get money for the day.
Once, we carried cash in our pockets from our pay checks for a week or two. And we used some of our pocket change to buy a newspaper.
I doubt if many of the good, hardworking people on the ATM line buy a paper after they get their bank machine cash. Probably quench their thirst for information — and that remains a human constant — via mobile devices or computers. What they might swallow may be deliberately slanted “news” that does not go through traditional editing and vetting.
The world has changed, and so has its ways. I simply forgot to get on the train. But I’ll never read about it in a newspaper.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. firstname.lastname@example.org