The Power of the Press

Sheila - Franklin, Pennsylvania
Entered on March 21, 2009

In the old days, at least in the movies, “stop the presses” signaled something choice was on the way. It was a phrase filled with promise. But today, in communities across the country, the presses are stopping for the last time, with no new headlines forthcoming. Ever.

I believe we are all poorer because of it.

As a reporter for my hometown paper, I cannot imagine what our community would be like without the newspaper, which serves as an essential mirror of the community, the only place where the separate but interrelated parts can be seen as one.

While the image might be blurry in places, distorted in others, it provides our readers with an awareness of themselves and their neighbors and the forces they face. If knowledge is power, and if the truth shall set you free, our readers deserve the best information we can give them about their lives.

They need the news, whether they know it or not.

In “Kitchen Confidential,” Anthony Bourdain describes the life of a restaurant kitchen. Except for the sex and the drugs, he could be describing the pressure cooker of a newsroom on deadline. The cooks he describes are misfits. Unfit in some way for regular life, they nonetheless provide the very fuel that sustains those leading regular lives, much as newspapers provide the very content of their conversation.

Over coffee and eggs in any restaurant anywhere, the same refrain is uttered between bites — “Did you hear . . . ?”

Readers, like diners, are not the most discriminating lot. Some want a McStory to go with their McDinner. We often give them one. But we also run stories they need. Those stories – four-courses with appetizer and dessert, aimed at keeping the powerful honest and the rest informed — are our bread and butter and provide readers with their daily requirement of food for thought.

But because news is ephemeral, a movable feast, the work is never done and exists in a small twilight between too early and too late.

Encompassed in a bite-sized word, the news says goodbye even as it says hello.

Like restaurant cooks or the pyrotechnic wizards behind fireworks displays, reporters labor over something designed for consumption, programmed to burn itself up in the telling.

Once it is told, once it is read, the story implodes. It becomes that epitome of obsolescence — old news.

If successful, it may persist as a memory, the afterimage of the hot color against the dark sky. But in the end, puppies will pee on it all.

The temporary character of the news, however, heightens rather than negates the importance of its pursuit.

There is something noble and necessary in the effort to capture the significant detail before it passes.

Sometimes, we are writing proto-history. Always it is the stuff of a shared life. I believe the texture of that life and the currency of its discourse will be sadly lost if the news as we know it utters a final goodbye.

This I believe.