Don Rogers: How the ink rubs off
First there were the funnies, color on Sundays! My little sister and I shared them while our dad, lying on his stomach on the punee, read the rest of the paper remarkably undisturbed by one or the other of his children riding the Daddy Horse after we finished our turn.
But the hook was really set with Sports. Setting aside childish things, like the comics, I moved on fairly early, some time into Little League. The quests for championships, the heroes, how they triumphed. The stuff of life here: high stakes, ups and downs. And stats, lots of stats, hinting at their own buried stories.
Young, I could dream. Maybe the next Jerry West or Merlin Olsen or Maury Wills. We’d moved from Hawaii to Southern California by then, from Star Bulletin to Los Angeles Times. I played shortstop.
With adulthood came forays into news, short at first and always after digesting the sports section. Jim Murray was still writing then, and he was the starting point on days his column ran.
Eventually, though, it had to happen. I went to college during winters in towns out of range of The Times. I found myself reading the local papers with growing interest in the rest of the news. Santa Cruz and Eureka, which got me checking out The Santa Barbara News-Press more often when back for fire season.
I’d swallowed the hook by the time my new wife and I settled in Quincy. My new in-laws were a bit aghast, I think, at our faith in serendipity to just up and move without jobs to some little town in the middle of the Sierra. But we had dreamed of living in the pines, and so we did.
The more I read the local paper, The Feather River Bulletin, the more I dared to believe I could write for it. So I did, making $10 a week less than unemployment while seeing if I could figure out this reporting thing, and maybe typing, too, while at it.
I read The Sacramento Bee and Reno Gazette-Journal with the intensity of trying to hold on to a job while learning fast as I could, hopefully ahead of any looming pink slips, while covering a bit of everything as happens in tiny towns.
Things worked out well enough that after a stint editing The Bull and a handful of other weeklies, I became news and then city editor in Holland, Mich., at The Sentinel, and then copy desk chief at a bigger daily an hour down the lakeshore, the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph Herald-Palladium.
Two youngsters of my own by then vied with daily inspection of the Detroit News and Detroit Free-Press — locked in a newspaper war that let us read each for a dime — and in Holland we printed the Chicago Tribune. Mitch Albom, Mike Royko, need I say more?
Then farm country Illinois, my first tenure as editor of a daily. There the big papers were The Quad City Times out of Davenport, and The Register Star in Rockford.
And onward along the newsprint trail. While I was editor of The Citizen in Auburn, N.Y., nearby Syracuse still had morning and afternoon papers: The Post-Standard and The Herald. Leisurely Sunday mornings still stand out for the papers and breakfast pizza from a place along the thruway less than a mile away. The kids by now had first crack at the funnies.
In San Diego, I only read The Union-Tribune professionally while night editor at the smaller rival, The North County Times. I could get the LA Times again.
And then Vail, our longest stop, two decades. Another newspaper war pitted The Rocky Mountain News against The Denver Post for readers’ souls and my continuing education. RIP Rocky Mountain, though, and now The Post is a husk like I found The Bee on our return to the northern Sierra.
The pandemic knocked Quincy’s Bulletin off the presses maybe for good. The Dixie Fire burned down Greenville, whose Indian Valley Record I also once edited.
We deliver The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, which I pluck from back shelves, sometimes clucking at their political coverage.
Everything including us is online too now, with all the live features and instant reporting opportunity we ink-stained wretches ever desired. But fate cruelly has diverted digital earnings to Google and Facebook right off the top, some 75% of the local news media online biz pie.
So news deserts bloom as precursor to ebb-tide consequences to come, hopefully only short term, ahead of a transformation I believe in even if I can’t quite see what that might be, exactly. Digital, certainly, but with the resources to pull it off won back somehow from today’s tech vampires. I declare this only factually. It is what it is.
Meantime, I’m happiest with ink on my hands, making new discoveries about what I had never dreamed would fascinate me as I turn the pages, an experience so unlike the television I no longer watch, radio I’ve largely traded for audio books, and online media with the ability to research but bereft of serendipity. The algorithmic tradeoff there is a big part of our current problems. I think I know a way to help with that, though.
But first I need to wait for the grandsons to finish with the funnies.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299
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