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HPPR Arts, Culture & History

Radio Readers BookByte: Loss of the News of My World

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Captain Kidd laid out the Boston Morning Journal on the lectern and began to read from the article on the Fifteenth Amendment. 

He had been born in 1798 and the third war of his lifetime had ended . . . He had been at one time a printer but the war had taken his press and everything else. 

Now he made his living in this drifting from one town to another in North Texas with his newspapers and journals in a waterproof portfolio. He read the news to a crowd, each of whom paid a dime.

Paulette Jiles’ book is a fascinating tale of wandering that altered an old man’s world view as Cicada, thought to be Johanna Leonberger, captured at age six came to an understanding of more than one world view.  I was intrigued by the story and the concept of this shared journey, but it is Captain Kidd’s system for distributing news of the world I want to address today.

To date, my world view has been informed by the news of the world – literally. I’m talking about how I’ve learned of the world, how that learning has informed my view of life and the universe and such. I have a close friend who has been consulting with national newspapers and he and I definitely disagree about the value of small town newspapers.  

Supposedly, I’m old fashioned, out of synch, not up with the times.  See, I subscribe to or share subscriptions to four newspapers.  I still look forward to reading them, a cup of coffee at my side. And, Heaven forbid, I still clip newspapers and send the snippets to friends and acquaintance with notes mailed in paper envelopes with stamps.

In fact, true confession, when friends send me links to news stories, I often print them out and mail those to others whom I think might enjoy them.  I detest the idea of news feeds and of seeing only items some algorithm has marked for me.  I want to know about things that hold no national import such as information about the upcoming exhibits at the Stauth Museum in Montezuma or the CVB’s grant round for tourism projects in Dodge City or progress on the preservation of the cupola on the Windsor.

Our own weekly newspaper has nearly half a page of “news from the past” and while I am slightly embarrassed to confess this, I search the 1940s and 1950s for the names of friends or family members, and was once surprised to read of a kitchen fire at my grandparents, an event which I’d forgotten, but had certainly shaped my sense of safety at the stove!

See, mostly I get my national and international news from my favorite public radio station. If I want to know more, I read more deeply, so I don’t count on my regional newspapers anymore. They don’t have local reporters, so they sure don’t have them overseas or in Washington, D.C.

What I want from the newspapers I want to hold in my hand has more to do with how Clark County is recovering from the Starbuck fire, what funding source Minneola used to upgrade its 90+ year old water mains, or how Cimarron built such a nursing home that feels like a home.

As the big conglomerates buy up us little guys, they expect us to be convinced demise is inevitable due to rational, economic realities. Myself, I mourn the decimation, the shrinking, and perhaps the inevitable passing of our local newspapers. Gatehouse is so unconcerned about the quality of our news that they print identical pages – two and sometimes four – in three of the four newspapers to which I subscribe. They’ve cut the comics until it isn’t even funny. Occasional, dog-treat sized human interest stories by ae lone employee, don’t really cover the community for me.

I want to read about my region’s accomplishments, the disagreements, the candidates, the events, but I also want to read the honor roll, see photos of 50th anniversaries, to know what’s for rent, whether there are jobs to be had, or when the public meeting on recycling is to be held.

And the local newspaper layoffs.  I lament the loss of our newspaper neighbors, the printer in an ink-stained apron; the reporter whose kids went to school with ours; the photographer at the edge of the football field, and the editor who served on committees and raised money for the Scouts or rang the bell on holidays.

I get my newspapers in the mail these days, newspaper kids collecting at the front door a thing of the past.  I feel like my subscription pays for the obituaries I read, but I hear families have to pay for those as well, so perhaps I should grieve that community function as well.

I’d hate to think we, like Captain Kidd, lost our news of the world in a war, but perhaps we are engaged in a war between devices and paper. Some days, I surrender and try staring at my cell phone or sitting at my computer, but I miss the joy of reading Dodie Hope’s column or clipping the latest KDOT grants awarded in our area.

Perhaps it is time for me to write an obituary for my subscriptions. Newspapers are much more than yesterday’s news printed on dead trees, as one cynic put it. If we don’t do something, we all may be waiting for some sort of Captain Kidd to show up to read what’s left of the news of the world to us – I’m sure it will cost more than one, thin dime.