Friday, January 14, 2011

Newspaper Week Stirs Us To Action

October 1967
  When President Lyndon Baines Johnson proclaimed this week, October 8 to 14, as National Newspaper Week, we sprang into action. It’s not often we get orders right out of Washington. The trouble is, there were no suggestions from the Prez directing us what to do.
  So as we mulled over the proclamation, we came up with such ideas as giving away newspapers— which immediately caused a jump in our accountant’s blood pressure. We did approve having a guest editor write a Guest-A-Torial to toot our horn for a change. You’ll find it right above this column
  I suppose you, like everyone else think that all a newspaper does is gather news and ads and print it up for your consumption. I was disillusioned too.
  FOR ONE THING, a newspaper is supposed to be the source of all knowledge— especially little-known knowledge about what’s going in the world. Well… we try to fill that role but our territory covers Rochester, not quite the whole world. It turns out that many folks expect quite a bit more out of us than just dishing out the news.
  During the past week, for instance, our office had one request to furnish the names of the national cemeteries in the U.S., a request on how to address a letter to the President and a query on how to dispose of one’s excess rubbish.
  We don’t mind answering the questions. It’s just downright embarrassing when we can’t always come up with the answers. Down at the Free Press they have a large staff answering the “Action Line” column questions— some 5,000 or more a week. Our humble staff must work this answering business into their normal duties.
  SOME OF THE questions— such as who won the Rose Bowl in 1936— are asked just to settle a bet. Some are quite practical such as “What time does the high school football game start tonight?” Or, “How much are tickets to the Marine Band concert and where can I buy them?” We often get asked, “Who’s our state senator and state representative?” Or we have even had calls from out of town asking the very surprising question, “How do we get to Rochester?”
  Many calls are from indignant people who want to get even with someone. Two weeks ago a young man wanted us to “blast” a local restaurant which threw him out “for no reason at all.” Another woman renting a house was being given a bad time by neighbors because she had too many children in the home. She wanted the neighbors “exposed.” When it comes to civil matters— quarrels between individuals— newspapers can’t afford to take sides unless complaints are made to police authorities. Then it becomes a public matter.
WE’VE BEEN CALLED out to look at lousy workmanship on new roads, check on the living conditions of old people and urged to investigate every department in all levels of local government. Besides getting us confused with the police or FBI, some people appointed us the lost and found department, seeing if we know anything about their lost cats and dogs, lost keys and eye glasses and even lost relatives. Sometimes we can help them.
  School children want histories of Rochester, attorneys want our newspaper reports of accidents and I was even summoned to appear in court to be a witness in an assault and battery case I had written about but never witnessed.
  BUT THE MOST disheartening call I have received was during the long Detroit newspaper strike several years ago. A woman called to see if we had back issues of the Clarion. “Which issues would you like?” I asked.
  "It doesn’t made any difference,” she replied. "Since the newspaper strike in Detroit, I haven’t got anything to line the bottom of my bird cage.”