Weary Pilgrim – Real News

So it’s the 60th anniversary of this August Publication – did you know the traditional gift for 60th wedding anniversary is diamonds? Seems a little pricey to me…..if you asked me to guess I would have said bauxite.


When I think of the importance a newspaper can exert in a community, I think back to a wharf in New York City in the year 1841. A Periodical titled Master Humphrey’s Clock was published in London that year – it contained, among other news, a serialized form of Charles Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop. Bearing in mind that Dickens was paid by the word, his combination of cliff-hanger chapters and lengthy descriptions of intrepid characters and bleak places lent itself to long and heartfelt tales. In this tale, a young beauty, Nell, and her grandfather are hounded through England by the villainous Quilp, whose interest in Nell could only be hinted at in these early Victorian times. Remember the death of JR in Dallas? Remember worrying about Carrie’s fate in the last episode of Homeland? Those are child’s play compared to the national anxiety generated in the US by the arrival from London on a packet ship of each week’s installment of the Old Curiosity Shop. Dickens’ treatment of Little Nell was strangely cruel, despite his lavish praise for her kindness and beauty – the poor girl was hounded out of London and across the moors by the evil Quilp, and the readers simply couldn’t stand it when the next to the last installment hinted at her imminent demise. When the ship bearing the last installment sailed into New York, it was greeted by an angry mob demanding to know the fate of Young Nell…..


Spoiler Alert: the book has been around for 175 years and change – if you haven’t read it by now, tough noogies…….Dickens killed Little Nell off, dispatching her tormenter Quilp shortly thereafter….this was the only time Dickens ever killed one of his heroes, and it sent the English-reading civilization into literary cardiac arrest. New Yorkers flew their flags at half-mast for weeks. I am not making this up. This was the power of the weekly paper in 1841.


I once subbed for a sick friend who had a paper route. Up at four, collect the bundles, fold them into handy throwing shapes, and set off at a brisk pace trying to get them on the right porch by the right time, taking great pride in launching the missiles hard enough to make it to the porch, but not hard enough to get through the picture windows. I was, frankly, horrible at it. But I loved being part of the chain of information that brought the news to those who insisted it be part of their morning routine.


TV, radio, and the internet have marginalized the importance of the printed word. And yet there are those who, like me, love the tactile gentility of books and papers – especially that little ‘flap’ of sound when you snap it into shape before you pick up your coffee cup.


As with most of us, I am a slave to the internet – and yet it creeps me out to walk into a house where I see no books whatsoever. Ditto newspapers – there ought to be at least one paper lounging on a table in my house at any given moment.


We all know that newspapers are going the way of the Wooly Mammoth – circulation is the lowest it has been since 1945…….circulation for US papers has fallen for 28 successive years, down 8-10% in the last year alone.

But has anyone noticed that the phrase ‘fake news’ never existed before the digital age? Our feeling was, if you could hold it in your hand, you could believe in it. And if your newspaper was local, you might know someone who worked on the paper – which meant you could trust them. I don’t know anybody who works for Instagram or Facebook.


So rejoice in this diamond of an anniversary. Rejoice that you are reading a paper put out by people who look out at the same mountains that you do. Rejoice that it prints news you can trust. Diamonds indeed.

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