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DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


December 1, 2015

In Defense of the Public Prints?

Harry M. Covert

I am glad to see some uproar from Frederick County readers who have taken exception to the front page reporting of a Christian prayer at the Sabillasville Elementary School half-century celebration.

 

The newspaper dodge welcomed me as a 17-year-old boy, and I thought I had died and gone to Heaven walking into the newsroom of the afternoon newspaper. It still thrills me to remember those exciting days.

 

Afternoon newspapers? Yes, sir. Those were the times when the morning paper and the afternoon prints were gobbled up by subscribers wanting to know everything going on in their respective communities.

 

How much fun it was to read the pages. It was always fun to hear the old gags in describing the local prints, “the morning mistake and afternoon repeater.”

 

In Maryland’s largest county, there was The News in the afternoon and The Frederick Post in the morning. For years and years there was no cable television news and no television stations blaring news, except for 15-minute news shows around supper time. Radio reports usually were 15-minute shows in the evening. Network news – there were three in yonder times – came on in five-minute segments on the hour. Usually most radio broadcasters spent the day with various music styles, no talk radio of any sort and soap operas, the most popular.

 

Sports shows were in their infancy. During the summer major league baseball was rather sparse except for recreated games on the air. Let me explain. Re-created games were sent by Western Union and the sports announcer entertained fans by describing the excitement. Imagination was something else, but listeners knew about runs-hits-errors. The score was always evident and the games were entertaining, fights with umpires, long homeruns and strikes.

 

Today’s technology has spoiled every day newshounds. Readers loved calling news rooms to find out their favorite high school, college and professional scores. Circulation departments always received requests for their “prescriptions” instead of subscriptions.

 

Afternoon newspapers have gone out of existence because of cable, constant news, etcetera, etcetera and etcetera. The one thing modern publications find it hard to do is accommodate families clipping stories about their school kids in plays, sports, national scholarship winners. I mean scrapbooks are hard to fill with computer pages.

 

A few days ago the editor of The Frederick News Post, Patrick Pexton, explained in a column why the paper reported on the Methodist pastor who mentioned God in his opening prayer for the elementary school celebration.

 

There has been lots of deleterious comments about the story by listeners on a Frederick radio station, letters to the editor and even from my TheTentacle.com column of last week.

 

Personally the newspaper/journalistic professional has changed considerably over the last three or four decades. Thanks to the investigative reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and other famous reporters.

 

Most gentle readers truly don’t understand the news business, at least these days. In a broad sense, good news isn’t good news. What used to be scandalous was left to old publications like the former and bankrupt Confidential, which reported about the Hollywood crowd who sneaked around in their sexual deviations, or the off-color political gossip from the likes of Walter Winchell, Hy Gardner and Earl Wilson. Admittedly, I loved scanning those columns as a kid.

 

I well remember the old story of a New York newspaper in the 40s that always had the Saturday college football scores and, slipped in scores from a nonexistent football team which always either won or lost at Slippery Rock, Augustus College, or Easter-Western-or Northern Loyola. For several years no one ever complained until a hawk-eye deskman/editor probably like John Ashbury, Maury Hassett or Stan Goldberg dared question a sportswriter.

 

A Virginia obituary writer, not this scribbler, lost his job for attempting to slip in an “obitchuary.” It wasn’t funny, of course.

 

It’s difficult for subscribers and faithful readers to know that newspapers today aren’t supposed to be local partisans, only printing the public’s favorite stories. The local newspaper is not an advocate journalistic publication.

 

Surely the local paper throws in the photos of the civic clubs, educational achievers and get great glee from pointing out the flaws of public officials. In days past often local publishers and even editors held local political positions.

 

Of course, political partisans take great exception to editorials and opinion page writers, most particularly when they are gouged and love it when their opponents may be found on a different side of issues.

 

Readers find great fun in the foibles of leaders on every level. There was a time when “yellow journalism” was prominent. There is a free-wheeling spirit in today’s news world.

 

Modern reporters and sportswriters use different languages. A half-century ago family newspapers never used the word “rape” in crime stories, or discussed such things as same-sex marriage. Rape was described as criminal assault.

 

A Baltimore wife was murdered for “treason to her vows.” Hanging of her husband was conducted in the state penitentiary in Baltimore.

 

Frederick murderers were executed in the local sheriff’s quadrant. That was many long years ago according to a well-known historian who knows the specifics. Sheriff Chuck Jenkins wasn’t even born when the last such person was executed in November 1922. State law changed January 1, 1923 to require all execution to be conducted at the state penitentiary.

 

So, let’s put in perspective the responsibility of the local newspaper. The slant may not be popular with many readers. But, it’ not the local public relations sheet.

 

In my day, growing boys never saw such spicy women’s lingerie as in today’s advertising pages. No wonder a national magazine is giving up its page of naked females.

 

hmcovert@gmail.com

 

 

 



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