This is a column written this week by Beth Grace, the executive director of the North Carolina Press Association. A former bureau chief for the Associated Press, Beth has spent 30 years in the newspaper business.
by BETH GRACE
On Nov. 5, I remembered all over again why I love newspapers.
As fast as presses around the world could crank them out, newspapers trumpeted in the largest possible font the outcome of the most historic presidential election of our lifetime – of any lifetime, perhaps.
Everyone, everywhere wanted to share and remember this moment. They talked, phoned, e-mailed, watched TV and listened to the radio. But those who wanted to keep the memory close did what most of us do in times of national trouble or triumph.
They bought the newspaper.
Actually, they bought hundreds of thousands of newspapers.
In North Carolina alone, weekly and daily newspapers produced a few hundred to almost 40,000 extra copies that day when people – subscribers, mingling with those who rarely or never read the paper — began streaming into their lobbies seeking souvenir editions.
Newspapers broke speed records that day to produce more copies (sold at the regular price – no mark-up, mind you) to anyone and everyone who wanted one.
Let me tell you — the crowds that day, that rare chance to order a second press run, the outpouring from subscribers and those who haven’t touched a page of recycled newsprint in years warmed a lot of ink-stained hearts in the newspaper industry.
It’s not every day we are reminded that no matter how hard the economy has hit us, no matter what anyone says about the future of print, no matter what else is happening in the world, newspapers matter.
Newspapers are important.
Newspapers are vital to our collective memory and history.
Newspapers are what publisher Philip Graham once called the “first rough draft of history,” the first place we turn – even now, even with an ocean of information just a mouse click or two away – to learn, to understand, to remember.
They’re the destination of choice for people anxious to read the whole story — and the story behind that story.
Newspapers are a sort of “everyman’s souvenir” of the moments that change our world.
There are some who believe that the electronic media – TV, satellite radio, web sites — will one day erase the need for the printed word and newspapers will cease to exist.
I don’t believe it.
And, I suspect, neither do the thousands and thousands of people who bought those extra papers on Nov. 5.
Nor do those who saved the paper the day after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the day after man first walked on the moon, the day after Sept. 11, 2001.
Nor do the many, many people who still subscribe faithfully, who know and savor the joy of reading the paper cover to cover with their morning coffee.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s absolutely no reason you can’t save a clip from TV, snatch a screen-shot off the web or download a podcast to your MP3 player.
Gosh, you’ll be able to enjoy those for historical e-moments for … what? About an hour and a half — right up to the moment that technology is wiped out by the next new thing, which based on my on experience will be completely incompatible with whatever you already have in your home.
Newspapers don’t have that problem.
We are the ultimate user-friendly software.
No download instructions needed.
No switch. No mouse. No card. No cord.
Just open your eyes, read and remember.
And here’s the really interesting thing: Newspapers do this every time they publish.
The history of our own lives, our own communities, our own world is reported with the same vigor and dedication every day, every week of the year.
As avidly as we gathered up those Nov. 5 editions, we save and tuck away, safely encased in plastic and secured in a drawer or memory box, the papers that carry the major headlines of our lives: our graduations, our weddings, the birth of our kids, the deaths of our loved ones, the big award our son just won, the job promotion our daughter landed.
For just pocket change, we hold the first draft of our own history, our own life story in our hands.
This is why I don’t believe those who say newspapers won’t always be with us.
Of course they will.
History will always need its first draft.
I created a Facebook page for myself a few months ago so I could check out what was on my older son’s page. Social networking is the “new” thing for his generation, and Facebook (and, for some, MySpace) is the way to communicate. All three of my kids have had e-mail addresses for some time, but even e-mail for that crowd is passe – it’s either texting or Facebooking, it seems.
I’m down wit dat, as they say (except for the girl who almost ran into meon US 1 last week while she was texting and driving at the same time…in full disclosure, though, I’ve becoming somewhat adept at texting while driving), but sometimes I wish my oldest, Zachary (just turned 16) would pick up the phone instead of having several ongoing conversations at once via his cell phone and computer.
Anyway…back to Facebook…I’ve been contacted by many old friends through my Facebook page and it’s been interesting to note the ages of people I know who have such pages – the average age is certainly increasing. Still, in an effort to reach the youngers, our Editor, Billy Liggett, has created a Facebook page for The Herald. You can read his post about it here.
And check out the page if you get a chance…
IN THE HERALD | ‘It’s a d*#^ shame!’http://media.podhoster.com/therant/racistcall.mp3″
The voice mail message (click on the “play” button to hear it – be forewarned that it contains cursing) above came in on our after-hours voice mailbox from a caller who didn’t identify herself. She was upset with our front page Wednesday – mad that we pictured presidential loser John McCain along with our new President-elect, Barack Obama. She says that because of The Herald’s racism – we’re racist because we pictured McCain – she’s going to call on subscribers in Lee County and all over central North Carolina to cancel their subscriptions.
You can read Editor Billy Liggett’s take on the message here.
From my listening of the message, she seemed to be upset mostly because she thought the big “story” on the front page was tied to the McCain photo. She saw the “cutline” or caption under the Obama photo and must have thought that little bit was all we had to say about our new president…and because the story (actually about Obama’s win) was wrapped around a McCain photo, she associated that with a story about McCain. The two photos (and the captions) and the story are all part of one package; the dominant photo (of Obama) goes hand-in-hand with the headline and the story. Maybe she later read the story and changed her mind, but if so, she didn’t call us to let us know…
Judge for yourself. I had a hard time with this one. I don’t see us including a picture of the “other” presidential candidate on the front page as racist or “backwoods.” (By the way, it was Jerry Lewis, the comic actor, not Jerry Lee Lewis, the cousin-marrying musician and entertainer, who talked about Sanford being backwoods a few years ago…)
Billy, on his blog, explained that we had an early deadline for Wednesday’s. With just a short AP story available to us, and the page already designed, he had limited time and options for finishing it up. I thought the page looked great and that our election coverage in general was very good. (For a look at how other North Carolina papers displayed this historic news, go here. Most papers had Obama on the front; just a few had both Obama and McCain.)
Tuesday was historic, and people all over the country were buying up copies of Wednesday’s newspapers as collectors’ items. We sold out of our single copies even though we had a larger-than-usual press run.
Any election will stir emotions. But as I told a good friend of mine today – who, incidentally, dislikes McCain so much she’s going to frame our front page with his picture snipped out – a chief component of racism is stereotyping. Racism is simply discrimination based on conventional notions (stereotypes) that are wrong. In this case, I think the caller was also wrong. She saw the McCain photo on the front page and made a judgment without asking all the pertinent questions.
Maybe she’ll call back before calling the rest of our readers…
REVERTING BACK | Web width back to where we were…
You’ll notice today’s Herald’s width is reduced – pages are 11″ wide, down from 12.5″ the last seven weeks. We were at 11″ width most of this year until our print conversion to Durham; the Herald-Sun has made change from 12.5″ as well, starting with the Monday edition.
Consolidation among newsprint manufacturers and the closure of a number of North American mills in the last two years has driven newsprint prices up. Many newspapers are making adjustments to compensate…
In today’s edition, we have more coverage of the debate over naming the new park at Pineland and Martin streets after City Councilman Walter McNeil. Editor Billy Liggett’s story says that local residents are upset with some members of the council’s reluctance to name the part after McNeill. We also have two letters to the editor on the subject. And you can see our editorial in Sunday’s edition…
You can read about the latest goings-on with the Lee County Republican Party in Tuesday’s Herald, and check Thursday’s edition for an editorial about our advice for the local organization. In the meantime, Charlie Parks has been named treasurer in the local organization (replacing Jim Pitts) and Vice Chairman Keith Clark has resigned.
You check read more in Thursday’s Herald; for a personal perspective on Keith’s resignation, see his blog