Tuesday, September 4, 2012

(Printing) Pressed for Time


Personal printers, office printers -- I'm not even thinking about those modern breakthrough inventions.  Historically speaking, neither holds a candle to earlier things capable of making prints.

It's a little ironic, the death of Neil Armstrong, the first earthman to leave a footprint on the moon, and at the same time realizing that another print -- newsprint -- won't be sticking around the local galactic neighborhood anywhere nearly as long as Armstrong's print, a calling card pressed -- pressed -- firmly into moon dust, perhaps forever.

"Journalists have always been our most old-fashioned class," wrote Frank Moore Colby, "being too busy with the news of the day to lay aside the mental habits of fifty years before." 

Fortunately, perfectly good mental habits die hard among journalists, but most newspaper writers currently experience a dark awakening to a future that may not serve either they, or the readers dependent upon them, well.  Some events occur with such regularity that one may set a clock by them, and few things are more dependable than the daily newspaper.

Or were.

Like so many other surprised cities and towns scattered across the USA, Central New York now learns that its stalwart newspaper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, will print only three major editions a week beginning in January, as ownership and management labor to increase profitability on its online site before the whole danged newsprint venture goes south.  Once part of a trilogy of grand old Syracuse newspapers (the others being the former Syracuse Herald-Journal and former Syracuse Herald-American) printed and distributed by the same publisher, the Post-Standard apparently remains commercially viable as it grinds along in a huge downtown building, but numerous desks once occupied by a throng of inquisitive news reporters and feature writers began a slow decline into obsolescence as the inevitable approached, at first stealthily.  Declining revenues and decreasing public involvement as the Internet claims a rise in readership seem the major culprits.

Wasn't it only a few years ago when the publisher purchased from some foreign country a magnificent new printing press, a fabulously expensive work of (state-of-the) art shipped in pieces which had to be intricately assembled so that Central NY readers could witness the finest color photo reproductions in the newspaper universe?  Yes.  But at the time, few anticipated the pixelated arrival of an Internet Satan on the communications horizon.

So here I am, writing a blog electronically, and you may ask, why do I bother mentioning any of this.  Well, I bother because the Post-Standard and, actually, both of its sister newspapers have a place in my peculiar little heart 'cause they printed teenage Robert's letters to the editor starting with one in the summer of 1965, and as years progressed there were dozens more published.  One editor in particular, the late J. Leonard Gorman, allowed me full rein when I felt like exploring the UFO subject, and at times the large amount of column space I was allowed on the editorial page seemed almost criminal -- but exciting.

And there were wire service articles about impressive UFO reports, accounts announced with large headlines and dazzling descriptions making news from coast to coast and internationally. There's nothing like a collection of newspaper clippings you can hold in your hands, seemingly official journalistic confirmation of events bordering upon the incredible.  For future reference.  History. 

But I fear that our willing surrender to a digital lifestyle can only result in quick flashes of real news and commentary, here, gone and forgotten in the space of altered human attention spans. 

An abundance of reporters who progress to writing for national publications usually begin at local newspapers, but in my truly screwed up world I was lucky enough to go from writing letters to the editor as a non-staffer, to penning a piece on UFOs for a small local magazine, and to writing major pieces for various journals and for periodicals produced by the publishers of the old True and Argosy magazines.  But I doubt any of that would have been possible, had newspaper editors not printed my letters, aware of reader interest (and with minimal or zero edits!).

Bonus:  Two Syracuse newspaper reporters who had contacted me regarding UFO stories ultimately joined the Vietnam Era military (Army and Air Force), as had I, and during my Air Force years we found one another and corresponded a bit.

So, here we are.  Online news sources flourish -- as we continue attempting to decide how one distinguishes news from fluff, lies and criminals on the Net -- and some young folk could care less about hold-in-your-hands newspapers, anyway. If they can even read or hold an attention span beyond two minutes. 

What of the future?  Will technological advances even make room for archives of newspaper knowledge from the ages?  Will new formats possess an ability to read pixels of the past?    Yet. . .

The June issue of National Geographic features an incredible article and photo spread about solar super storms, and warns us in no uncertain terms about solar flares and plasma disasters waiting to happen here on earth (these have occurred before to various degrees), when entire continental electrical grids and satellite networks may be destroyed, re-introducing us to a planet without electricity or electronically reproduced images and voices, maybe for months.  Maybe for years, forcing us back to a cumbersome pre-electric life, devoid of both convenience and know-how.

And I'm thinking, yeah, the Internet would be gone, broadcast stations would go silent, and newspapers commonly produced via electronic mastering would disappear.  Trusted digital archives may well become
useless.  "The cloud," indeed.

Years may go by, in the worst instance.

However, somewhere on earth, a planet suddenly drenched in enduring darkness, but for sunlight's roots offering both life's glow and chaos incarnate, somebody or lots of somebodies might build or gather hand-operated printing presses from museums, and maybe a precious cache of paper and ink would allow, for a while at least, the free flow of information and documentation of  The Sun's Big One and events which followed.  Whatever form that communication might take on paper, readers would have to call it by a strangely familiar name, an ancient term fondly reminisced about by their parents or grandparents, from a time when they were children:  A newspaper.  The dinosaur that wouldn't die.