12 January 2007
Chasing the Muse
“All the dirt that’s fit to print.” That’s what my editor, Cindy, echoing a remark that graced the front of the New York Times. We chuckle over her remark, but it sets in motion a series of thoughts and conversations.
I sent her a copy of a news brief from the Seattle Times in which a writer, Danny Westphal, states, "I think intensely local, professionally gathered news is due for a comeback. It's the one thing you can't get anywhere else."
Danny's right on target. The onslaught of instantaneous news numbs the senses. Internet flashes, breaking news briefs, radio cut-ins. At every turn, news has become the food for instant in-the-know gratification. CNN and MBS vie for the most up-to-the-minute web reporting. Anyone can subscribe to ‘alerts’ from the Wall Street Journal and others. Old news is more frequently something that happened a few hours ago.
We know everything about everything from all corners of the world. But we know very little that is personal.
So what is local news? Council meetings, local school issues, police and fire, tree and hedge claims, design review feuds & threats, restaurant menus, music and theatre reviews, births, marriages and deaths. And of course, the surf report.
Once upon a time (okay, dating myself severely) the local Laguna paper actually carried the school menus. Mom and I would sit at the kitchen table, review the weeks choices, and make decisions about what days I would ‘buy’ and what days I would ‘take’. I hated fish sticks, and that meant that Friday morning we would pack my lunch.
Laguna in the late 50's at 12,000 inhabitants and surrounded by open space and cattle, orange trees and strawberries was a vastly different community than the one that burgeons on all borders and is surrounded by developer designed communities. We were more intimate, we tended to know nearly all of our ‘others’ and the news was often more personal.
Community papers have always had a special opportunity to explore their citizenry, and the conversations with Cindy sent me on a search through family archives. I’ve a collection of scrapbooks from my great-grandmother Sue, which contain clippings, both from the local Cedar Rapids, Iowa paper during the early 1900’s, and snips that her mother, Cass, has saved, dated in the 1880’s and 1890’s.
They truly reflect the character of their towns, (and my family’s propensity for clipping articles that contained their names) as in the following:
“E.Q. Cass departed Tuesday on No. 3 for Southern Kansas ad Indian Territory, to be absent about fifteen days. He will visit his brother Wally near Medicine Lodge, and take a general scout.” (1890)
“Dr. J. Camp went to Creston Saturday. Samuel Clough, Sr., delivered four pigs, eight months old, that weighed 1150 pounds, to H.Y. Lupher on June 5. Wm. Cheers gave a social strawberry supper at his pleasant home south of Arispe last Saturday … evening spent in pleasant games and conversation until nearly 12 o’clock when the guests departed for their several homes, praising Will and his sister Emma’s art of entertaining and hoping for many returns of the pleasant evening.” (1893)
“Ralph Cass started to Doyon, N. D., last Monday morning to help harvest the immense crop of small grain up there.” (1913)
“At the postponed sale of J.C. Westerbeck Friday, and the sale of E.Q. Cass Monday, everything sold at good prices and these men can thank their lucky stars that they had good bills printed at the Sun office, as this invariably happens when we print the bills.” (1915)
“Miss Susie transacted business and visited friends in Afton on Saturday.” (1893)
“Harold Stevenson, who spent his summer vacation at Yellowstone Park, returned home Tuesday.” (1918)
A similar clip, written today, might read:
“Neighbors Christine and Maritz welcomed into their home a loving ball of fluff they’ve named Lola. This ‘rescued’ baby Westie came all the way from Texas to fill their hearts.”
Or a reflection on an event mid-day Monday:
“Cooper, son of Catharine, called and asked her to join him at Crystal Cove to see a baby whale. Upon her arrival, the two sat upon the cliff side, along with a throng of others whale lovers, to witness the newborn, obviously separated from its mother and in distress, swimming in the surf line. A pod of dolphins swam around the tiny whale, as if to protect it from any further harm. Marine Animal Rescue arrived with a small seal-size crate. Not quite the right fit. Coast Highway was jammed with cars parked on both sides of the roads, obviously more concerned with the blessing of seeing a baby whale than the threat of a parking ticket.”
On the dirt side, well, there’s always plenty, especially for anyone living in or near Bluebird Canyon. Political dirt remains secreted in polite conversations and subtle innuendos. Laguna is still a small town, and I certainly don’t want anyone accusing me of breaking the Brown Act by speaking with two or more of my fellow columnists outside earshot of the public.
Intensely local. Professional reported. That’s the Coastline Pilot.
Catharine Cooper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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