Papers preserve history
Recently, I was given an old book containing copies of the New York Literary Journal from the 1850s. After reading through some of the old issues, I was struck with two conclusions: First, folks in those days were better readers than we are now, because the stories were written in a very ponderous manner. My second conclusion was that newspapers and printed periodicals preserve history for future generations.
While the Literary Journal wasn’t exactly a newspaper in the strictest definition, it did contain biographical articles about leaders of the day. I am a history buff, and I’ve read many historical accounts, yet for the most part, I wasn’t familiar with many of those profiled. The publication had first-person stories from correspondents in faraway places such as India and Africa.
I also spend some time going through the old archives of the Chieftain for the “Remember When” column and you can see how newspapers have changed and evolved over the years. Writing went from very detailed and complex to being far easier to read and breezy. What is important to me when I read old newspapers is to get a snapshot of what life was really like in times long past.
In addition, newspapers have a very long and exciting history. According to one authority, the first newspaper was the New York “Gazette,” which made its debut on Nov. 8, 1725.
Modern journalism historians didn’t give the publication a good review. Apparently it had very few pages and most of the stories were from England and were weeks, if not months, old.
The bad review didn’t matter and it wasn’t long before newspapers were everywhere. It really didn’t take a lot of capital to buy type and a press and be in operation. In the next two centuries there was an explosion of new publications, and at one time in the 1870s there were 90 publications in New York City. Changing technology along with new lifestyles have steadily whittled down the number of newspapers in the nation.
Probably the most famous publisher was Ben Franklin who owned several newspapers. Franklin was known for handling criticism. If someone wrote a letter to the editor criticizing him, he would answer back. No, he didn’t write an editorial — he would write a letter to the editor under an assumed name defending the editorial position. Sometimes, he would write several such defenses, and it wasn’t long before the person who wrote the critical letter was put in his place.
Kansas has produced some great journalists. Probably most famous is William Allen White of Emporia. He wrote everything from commentary to poetry and was regarded as a literary giant.
While not so well known now, Arthur Capper, who is best remembered as the owner of the Topeka Daily Capital, was also active in politics. Yes, Kansas newspapers have a long and rich history.
Despite tough times, newspapers remain vital, particularly in smaller communities. These newspapers keep residents informed on what is going on in local government, ranging from county and cities to school boards. Newspapers remain the best way to inform the public. Newspapers also create a permanent record of the history of the community.
I was fortunate to spend all but a few years of my professional career in the newspaper business. Today, I remain a “newspaper junkie,” looking over every publication I get my hands on.
Even with the rise of radio, TV and the web, newspapers remain vital. They still do, by far, the best job of chronicling history. They are a permanent record of where a community has been and what it will be doing in the future.
Yes, I love newspapers and I sincerely hope 150 years down the road they will still be an important part of our society.