Harlem newsstand, 1939
Sometimes a teacher says something that he forgets before lunchtime but that stays with a student for a lifetime. This can be true even if the impressionable young person does not understand the gravitas of the statement for years. Three plus decades ago my best friend and I were sitting in our 11th grade English class when our instructor, Mr. Donini, said in passing that when we the class reached full-blown middle age newspapers as we know them would be obsolete. He was referring to the move from print to digital, and it was an extraordinarily prescient comment for a person to make in the early 1980s.
Changing the subject a little, I will point out that much of the content here on this blog comes from historical newspapers, themselves originally in print but now digitized and available online. One newspaper upon which I rely heavily is the original Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which happened to have been across the street from where I work today in Downtown Brooklyn. It was one of the great American dailies from the mid-nineteenth through mid-twentieth centuries. Last semester my colleague and I took our class on a tour of the Brooklyn Public Library, where among other things our guide took us down to see the BDE morgue, the rows and rows of file cabinets filled with yellowing clips of stories organized and classified with great attention to detail.
The reason I say all this is because in the post-truth world we live in today facts and details matter. It seems that supporting the first draft of history is more important than ever. Otherwise how will the people of the late-twenty-first and early-twenty-second centuries–our children and grandchildren–make sense of our own life and times after we are gone? How will we make sense of it? For that reason I subscribed this morning to the digital version of the Washington Post. My primary reason is to keep up more closely with current affairs, but it’s not all for that. I love DC–my grandparents lived there for a decade during the Depression and WW2, and my mother was born there–and so I registered for the National Digital + DC Edition. In this way I can keep up with the goings-on at the various museums as well as Washington Nationals baseball. Spring training does start in just a few weeks. That said, my real reasons are to better understand our current moment and to support the expensive and hard work that journalism entails.
We have become accustomed over the past 10-15 years to receiving our music, our journalism and our podcasts for free. This complacency is dangerous. I am hardly the first one to be saying this in these times, but we need to reexamine our assumptions and think harder about supporting those things that keep us plugged into our world.
(image/New York Public Library)