Archive for January 10th, 2010

When we were driving back from my great-nephew’s birthday yesterday, Cheri mentioned something that a friend had told her earlier this week.  It was a minor incident, one of no great consequence, that happened locally.  Neither of us had heard anything about it nor had we seen it in our local newspaper.

I said that it was the type of thing that you would have seen in local newspapers of the past but which no longer appeared in the new reality of print journalism.  Our local newspaper, the Elmira Star Gazette, which was the first newspaper that Frank Gannett operated on the way to building his news empire, has evolved over the years from an informative, vital chronicle of the local area to  a much leaner, less informative leg of a group of local  newspapers that is more regional in coverage, sharing reporters and coverage.   As a result, there are  fewer reporters covering much greater areas with less space to fill on the pages of each paper.  Local coverage consists of a page or two, at best.

Gone are the little details that newspapers of the past provided, the minutiae of day to day life in a locality that gave the reader a true feel of the newspaper’s area of coverage.  Less coverage of small incidents, minor arrests, social gatherings, small local events, etc.  The type of things that give an area’s readers a sense of definition of what they are as a community.

That’s a lot to lose.

My fear, which is beyond nostalgic longings for a return to some idealized past, is that the generations of the future will actually have a harder time trying to put together the day to day life of any specific area because of the loss of this minutiae  that was in the past always gathered in one convenient source, the newspaper.  For instance, as I’ve written before, I didn’t know much, practically nothing, about my great-grandfather’s life in the Adirondacks in the late 19th and early 20th century.  But by reading the old newspapers of that time and locality ( St. Regis Falls) I was able to get a very good an detailed idea of how that area’s inhabitants lived their lives, their social  and family networks and how they operated and interacted as a community.  It seemed like every little detail was chronicled in some way that I would never be able to find in today’s papers.

It gave depth and detail to a time and place that is a distant point in the past.

With the loss of the newspaper’s effective local coverage, I don’t know if the same could be said today, even with all the awesome sources of information available to us.  There is an enormous amount of data, given all the new technology such as the internet, out there but it’s not unified and day to day in one specific area.

Maybe I shouldn’t care about this.  Who does?  And maybe I’m just plain wrong.  Maybe it will be easier in the future to pull all the data together and get an idea of how specific people lived in specific localities.  I just feel there is a loss here that goes beyond the purely nostalgic, especially when examining the historic anthropology of a given area.

I think a small part of our cultural voice and identity will fade away…

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