Column: Lois Lane doesn’t write for the internet

Jason-Column2This is the second week in a row I’m writing to you in absentia, so to speak. Feels weird, doesn’t it?

At the risk of making an ass of you and me, I’m going to assume you’re reading this on or about the Review’s publication date this week. If you are, I—along with just about everyone in the masthead on page six—am attending the New York Press Association’s annual Better Newspaper Contest and conference as you do.

I don’t think either of us is going to end up an ass due to that statement because, if you’re reading the Review at all, you’re very likely a big fan of newspapers and what they can do.

So are we.

Last year was my first trip to the NYPA conference. There are awards, of course—your newspaper has won many over the years—a gala, lunches and dinners, and classes about every aspect of the weekly community newspaper business.

Bob Freeman’s class on open government is always well attended.

What I noticed last year, though, was, more than anything else, the NYPA conference is a celebration of newspapers themselves. Everyone there was excited about newspapers. They were excited about what newspapers are, and they were excited about what, through newspapers, we can do for the communities we serve.

I’m not talking about websites, mind you; I’m talking about newspapers. Actual newspapers.

When I joined this company as a reporter in the fall of 2012, the idea my stories would be published on the internet excited me just about zero. I’d had fiction published on the internet. I’d posted hundreds of thousands of words about movies, comic books, action figures and other nerdery to the internet for years. Anyone can put words on the internet these days; you probably put some words on the internet this morning, or last night.

If you haven’t and you need to, go ahead. I’ll wait.

While I understand the importance of the internet in our changing, evolving, freight-train-going-down-a-mountain-with-no-brakes media culture, the prospect of seeing my byline on our website didn’t do much for me.

I loved seeing my byline in the newspaper. Every week. Even more than I love the dopey mug shot at the top of this column.

There’s magic in a newspaper byline for everyone on this end of them. I’m not sure I can explain it, but I’ll have a go, yeah?

It may seem counterintuitive, and perhaps a bit romantic, but there’s permanence to the printed byline, and the newspaper itself, the internet doesn’t provide. Even though we all know the internet is likely to outlast every copy of every newspaper in existence or yet to exist, there’s nothing truly permanent about the internet; anything can be changed.

I can go back and change any aspect of any of these columns on our website, any aspect of them, in as long as it takes me to strike the keys.

That, to me, is probably at once the internet’s greatest strength and weakness, its
fluidity.

A newspaper, on the other hand, is an indelible, unalterable snapshot; a collection of moments grabbed and shaped as the world flew by and collected in one place, just one, so you’ll know what’s going on around you.

That’s pretty cool, you ask me.

It’s also why, on the-—let’s be clear, pretty rare—occasion we had to run a correction to one of my stories I was one gutted reporter.

Sure, we can correct the record about anything, to any degree, but we know on this end it means that particular newspaper, that rigid, physical thing we all worked hard to craft perfectly, is flawed.

It’s always a bitter a pill. Always.

But that’s also the beauty of newspapers, I think, and the reason our printed bylines are so magical and so dear to us. Every byline you see in this paper is someone walking a tightrope; trying to strike the right balance between fact, flow and flare to get you, and him or herself, to the end unscathed.

When it all comes together as it should, as we all know it can, the stories sing and those printed bylines become badges of honor and pride because, on that paper with that ink, the job was done right and the newspaper itself is a monument to that effort.

At least that’s how I felt about it. I hope I speak for everyone here when I say that.

Looking at the masthead on page six, yeah, I think I do.

We’ll all see you back here next week.

 

Reach Jason at jason@hometwn.com and
follow him on Twitter @jasonchirevas