Tom Ross: Musing on 3 decades of bellringing
November 2, 2010
Steamboat Springs — I had a blast Monday eating egg salad sandwiches and swapping stories with the good folks taking part in the Routt County Council on Aging's lunch program at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.
The seniors invited me to give a talk about the changes I've seen during the course of three decades in community journalism.
I told them about my first newspaper job in Wisconsin, where the Chilton Times-Journal was being printed decades before James and Margaret Crawford ever settled in Steamboat Springs. And you can bet I told them some great yarns about dairy farmers that I gathered while writing the weekly Farm Review column.
"Be very careful about shaking hands with old dairy farmers," I cautioned. "They grew up milking cows by hand, and they have fingers the size of bratwurst. They can easily crush your hand and smile while they're at it."
The seniors ate that stuff up like they ate their bowls of canned peaches.
Of course we had to talk about serious stuff, like the mayhem brought down last decade on longstanding family owned newspapers that were acquired by publicly traded corporations. I told them how newspaper companies that sell stock to raise funds have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders and the quarterly earnings report that supersedes what is best for the news product. I told them they should feel fortunate to live in a town with a newspaper that still is owned by a family that bleeds black ink and reinvests in its newsrooms.
Everyone wanted to know, "Do you think there will come a day when newspapers won't be printed on paper anymore?"
"Yes, inevitably," I said. "But I promise it won't be in your lifetimes. It's a generational thing. My grandchildren won't be reading newspapers as we know them today. But don't worry about it."
There always will be newspaper reporters who are driven to tell the stories that matter to peoples' lives.
There was a great newsman from Emporia, Kan., named William Allen White who foresaw that newspapers would not always be printed just on newsprint but increasingly by means he could not imagine. Those means, as we all know, turned out to be smart phones, iPads and laptop computers.
"Of course, as long as man lives, someone will have to fill the herald's place. Someone will have to do the bellringer's work. Someone will have to tell the story of the day's news and the year's happenings," White wrote in 1932. "A reporter is perennial under many names and will persist with humanity. But whether the reporter's story will be printed in types upon a press, I don't know. I seriously doubt it.
"I think most of the machinery now employed in printing the day's, the week's, or the month's doings will be junked by the end of this century and will be as archaic as the bellringer's bell, or the herald's trumpet. New methods of communication I think will supercede the old."
White was off by at least a decade, but he certainly had the gist of it.