by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
January 11, 2001
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- I love newspapers.
And no, my head isn't buried in the sand. After 11 years as a journalist, I know the serious problems that newspapers have.
My short list would include:
But I still love them all, big and small, short (tabloid) and tall(broadsheet).
Newspapers give me adventures in daily serendipity, and serendipity-- "the gift of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for" (according to Merriam-Webster) -- is one of my favorite things.
When I open a newspaper, I never know what I'll find.
Sure, I pretty much know which national news stories will be on the front page. Either I've heard them the night before on National Public Radio, or on the 7 p.m. television news, or from the late night television comedians who have turned into our most honest reporters. Or I'll read them on Netscape or Yahoo when I check my morning email.
It's too easy to attack newspapers. They've been around forever, we take them for granted, and they're sitting ducks when we need to target our scorn.
In that, they're like the U.S. Post Office. People scream when the price of a stamp goes up a penny, but the post office is a national treasure. I live on top of a mountain in Vermont, and take it from me, no matter how bad the snow is in winter or the mud in Spring, I can send mail anywhere in the world and get mail from anywhere in the world every single day.
We don't need newspapers for breaking news any more, but that doesn't mean they're unnecessary. They're a cheap daily feast of stories, a window on the world of the human condition, and a great source of entertainment and instruction.
Take the day I'm writing this, January 10, 2001.
Every paper had the same big news: Linda Chavez withdrew her name from consideration for labor secretary, huge airline mergers were being proposed, protests would occur in Washington at George W. Bush's inauguration.
But that is not where the adventure comes. Where else but in a newspaper would I learn that Brooke Shields, during an interview to become an anti-smoking spokesperson, said: "Smoking kills. If you're killed, you've lost a very important part of your life." I read that in Cindy Adams' New York Post column (www.nypost.com).
Here's another great quote from that column: Mariah Carey said, "Whenever I see those poor starving kids all over the world, I cry. I'd love to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff."
On the same day, in The New York Times, there was an analysis of the probable winners and losers in the airline mergers. There was also the obituary of James Carr, a great Memphis soul singer who lived the blues life -- marijuana, women, cigarettes, booze and music -- and, sadly, died early at the age of 58.
At the Boston Globe (Boston.com), it was interesting to learn that 71 people died in fires in Massachusetts in 2000, and that a New Bedford police officer, bitten by a rabid otter at a city housing complex, was going to be fine.
This very paper, the American Reporter, offered original reporting by Mark Perew on the discovery of two new planets. Many papers covered the story, but only Perew described their co-joined orbits as "some very unusual sleeping arrangements."
My small local paper, the Brattleboro Reformer, published a list of committee assignments for Vermont's House of Representatives. You might think that's dull, but in the recent election, there was a huge struggle here between the forces of the left and center, who voted to give civil rights to homosexual couples, and the forces of the right, who were red-faced furious about it.
As a result, the GOP took over the House for the first time in many years. The speaker of the House makes the committee assignments, and everyone wanted to see what the new guy would do. One thing he did was banish the old speaker to the transportation committee.
On the opinion page, there was an editorial calling for a national drug policy built around education and treatment, while a progressive columnist who is also a registered nurse mused about the sad possibility that with Republicans running the House, there might be limits on the availability of health insurance for seniors and sick people. He called his musings "spiritual dyspepsia."
I also learned that the public school in my little town of Dummerston is requesting a 9.68 percent budget increase. That lets me know that the property tax is going to go up, and that I, for one, will have a hard time paying it.
Reading all this took me less than an hour, and I passed over far more stories than I read.
I love reading newspapers. Even with all those flies and death and stuff.
Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.