From parchment to touch-screens—vehicles for sharing information continue to evolve

2012 Oct 1
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This afternoon, people in Huntsville, Alabama won’t be able to walk outside and pick up their dead-wood-and-ink copy of The Huntsville Times. The Times, along with three other Newhouse Newspapers in Alabama and Louisiana, cease publishing a daily newspaper today.

This is an especially sad day for me. For all its limitations, The Huntsville Times was my primary window to the larger world when I was a kid. I was an avid newspaper reader. I read each section of The Times every day, without fail. So dependent was I that my mother reminds me how I would call the paperboy “a communist” when he failed to deliver the paper on time. The Times was where I learned about the circumstances and causes of the hostage crisis in Iran. It helped teach me the difference between Republicans and Democrats.  It delivered the box scores from the previous day’s Atlanta Braves game, let me scan the obituaries for the last word about my grandparent’s friends that I knew from my childhood, and gave me a glimpse of a  world far beyond my living room.

And then there was the incomparable Mike Royko. It’s not an exaggeration to say the he, more than anyone, was responsible for my decision to pursue journalism as my profession. His columns, about people in a city that I had never visited (corrected now, as I’m writing this column from an office overlooking Lake Michigan in his beloved Chicago), were my regular glimpse into the foibles of humanity. Several times a week, Royko wrote about his fictional rogue’s gallery, a Greek chorus commenting on life’s failures and follies, crooks and cronies, yet conveying a universal appeal that transcended the confines of his hometown. Royko’s Slats Grobnik was my “Voice of the People,” speaking truth, however inelegantly, to power. Royko could smell a phony a mile away and wrote with a power and grace that conveyed his old-fashioned values – life is tough, and often unfair, and bad people often got more than they deserve. But in the end, goodness would, if not triumph, at least live to fight another day.

I’m afraid that the habit of reading Royko resulted in part from the ritual of seeing his column appear without fail in my local newspaper. I’m just not sure that Slats Grobnik is possible in an ipad world.

But of course, life goes on, as does journalism. Something called al.com has replaced the daily newspaper, and there are, I’m told, 220 good, enterprising reporters, editors and photographers scouring the state of Alabama looking for news that’s fit to pixelize. Sure, they’ll still print the paper three days a week (guesses as to how long that lasts). And yes, there are far more sources about the world in the digital realm, just keystrokes away, for a curious kid somewhere to peruse. The world is probably better off for the endless variety and volume of information available on the web.

Just don’t spill coffee on your ipad – it’s a lot more expensive to replace than your daily newspaper.

Rodney Ferguson, Principal

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