Posted on: June 17, 2009

Reading newspaper

Years from now there will be more news museums like this one in Washington.
City newspapers and community newspapers are dying, but their legacy is journalistic integrity, worth far more than the yellowing paper on the shelves of newspaper morgues and museum shelves.
The legacy is an honourable, but thin one. New news consumers don’t give a rat’s ass about it, nor would most recognize it.
Today’s news consumers are a TMZ generation, a coruncopia of clickers.
Years ago I sat down with Cleo Mowers, for two decades the publisher of the Lethbridge Herald. Impressed and fascinated by the man, I looked up the newspaper from his era. It was unrecognizable.
Our newspaper could be read in five minutes. His was a morning’s read.
He had a reporter in Edmonton, Alberta’s capital, for provincial politics, he had reporters writing sending in material from far off places, he had agriculture, opinion, local news, news from nearby places, a newspaper so full of news it was like a plucked ripe fruit, one wanted to consume it to be sated.
He started out a columnist after she wrote a letter expressing a horrified concern about a tune a visiting German high school marching band played. He liked her letter to the editor, he saw something in it, and he started her off as a columnist.
I had no idea of her history as I read the old Herald, but after I read a few columns I knew I had to meet her. She wrote with passion and insight and had a view of the world that was from some mysterious source I had no idea about.
I discovered she lived in a nearby town. I called her. She invited me to lunch.
“I’m having fish Saturday,” she said.
She lived in Coutts. I told a fellow journalism student I was going to her area that weekend to interview a woman named Eva Brewster.
“Oh, I know her,” she said. “Have you read her book?”
I had no idea she’d written one.
She brought it to school the next day and I couldn’t put it down. Vanished in Darkness described the horrors of her Aushwitz experience- here was the reason for that deep insight- here was that source of that world view I had seen in her columns kept in the Lethbridge library.
That weekend my first in-depth interview as a journalism student was of Eva Brewster, Aushwitz survivor, in her kitchen in Coutts, Alberta. I learned the tune that visiting high school band played, she’d heard before, as a prisoner in Aushwitz. She remembered it as a band tune used to welcome and reassure new arrivals.
I remember my questions. Such basic questions. I really wanted to know.
“What’s a Jew?” I remember asking.
I remember coming away thinking a voice is all anyone has. Whether it is writing, music, broadcasting, a shout, a scream- a voice is all we have. I knew choosing journalism had been important to me. I drove away from that interview knowing why.
Newspapers do that. Good newspapers don’t just contain news. They contain magic.
Writing good news- even opinion- requires anticipation and digging and a recognition of our humanness, and of not just justice, but of basic fairness. The world of a good newspaper is a world of subtleties.


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  • Holly Stick: Look you fuckwit, are you too stupid to realise that Ghomeshi was an actual friend of Layton's, when you tweeted to him that the mourners were faking
  • aardvarkcola: Thank you. I see the rest of your message now. i'm honoured to to have your words on my blog. That alone is a delight. Lawrence


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