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In celebration of newspapers

This week, Oct. 6-12, is a week dedicated to what many acknowledge as journalism’s first stronghold.  It is National Newspaper Week.

In an industry that is ever changing, at a time when the focus is as much on the digital sharing of news as the printed word, we as local news people do our best to embrace all aspects of our craft. I feel I can speak for my colleagues when I say we are in this business out of love:  love for this craft, for the communities we serve, and for sharing stories and images that mean something to our readers.

This week is for celebrating.

I received a link via email to a story in the Virginian-Pilot, a daily newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia.  Writer Nick Thomas issued this eye-catching item: “Moses the first paperboy?” Thomas writes Moses’ capturing the Ten Commandments on stone tablets could be considered the very first “breaking news” story.  He paints a picture of Moses charging down Mt. Sinai with the tablets, crying “Extra! Extra!”

In 1700s America, Benjamin Franklin was a printer.  According to the Benjamin Franklin Historical Society, Franklin began as a young apprentice, helping his older brother put out the New England Courant, and even wrote his first letter to the editor for that publication under the pen name of “Silence Dogood.” He later purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette and founded “Poor Richard’s Almanak,” among many other accomplishments in the printing world.

Those who offered the news for sale have their own place in history.  Who hasn’t seen images from the early 20th century of the iconic newsboys at street corners, holding the latest editions for sale? The recent Broadway musical “Newsboys” immortalized that era in theater.

Newspapers also figured largely in a television show that starred Kyle Chandler. “Early Edition” (1996-2000) focused on kindhearted Gary Hobson of Chicago, who opened his door one day to see a cat sitting on a newspaper. The paper was dated the following day. Hobson found the paper — and the cat — at his door every morning, and eventually figured out he was supposed to find something in tomorrow’s edition that he was supposed to “fix” before tomorrow came. 

I began my newspaper career some 32 years ago (gasp), fresh out of college. I had much to learn, and learn I did — about journalistic protocols, refining the writing process, photography (we used actual film then, taking it into the darkroom to develop and print), and the ever-changing technology that took words from a computer screen to the final product.

We did stories on floppy disks and sent them by courier to the publishing plant. We all participated in layout. News story copy was printed in galleys, strips 2 1/4 inches wide, and these were run through a machine that waxed the back side of the strip. Advertisements and headlines were printed and waxed as well. We pasted those waxed pieces onto graphed layout pages, which were then photographed to create printing plates.

We’ve come a long way. Computerized layout means faster and more creative design, and communications technology means we can collaborate from the St. John Valley to Bangor with ease.  But I’m grateful I had a chance to learn some of the “old ways,” because it gave a young reporter a true appreciation for all the people involved in sharing the stories of our community.

Paula Brewer is the assistant editor for The Star-Herald, Aroostook Republican, Houlton Pioneer Times and St. John Valley Times, plus websites TheCounty.ME and FiddleheadFocus.com. She can be reached at pbrewer@bangordailynews.com or (207) 764-4471.

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