Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

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by Hayden Hollingsworth

One hundred twenty-five years old . . . and still going—that’s The Roanoke Times.  It’s not really our sister newspaper, but more like a second cousin, twice removed.  It is among the oldest establishments in our city and they have earned our appreciation.

There was a time when we really got the news from the paper.  Certainly, that’s not the case now.  Back in the day, I can remember Perry White, the editor of The Daily Planet, dashing out of his office and shouting to an astonished Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, and the ever-so-cool Clark Kent, “Great Caesar’s ghost! Stop the presses!!”  The next frame in the comic book would show the newsboy on the corner of Fifth and Concord in Metropolis, yelling “Extra! Extra! Read all about it” and we would see a banner headline of Superman’s latest exploits saving the city.

I wondered when the last time a Roanoke paper ran an extra was.  There have been some and I consulted Frosty Landon, a former editor, when that might have been.  Pearl Harbor; that was the last one, he thinks. No need for extras now with instant news from the cyber media.  By the time a reporter can file a story, much less get it in print, we have heard the facts, usually ad nauseam, from a dozen different outlets.  We don’t get news from the papers anymore.  It’s no wonder that nationally daily papers are struggling for circulation and even survival.

I suspect that within a decade, the idea of a local paper will be as quaint as hand cranking your car.  Like everything else, consolidation will be the order of the day.  I’ll bet that The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, or The Los Angeles Times will be published in every city large enough to support a paper.  There will be a local section added for obituaries, high school sports, and advertising.  Such a trend might bode well for weekly papers such as The Roanoke Star-Sentinel.

The combined papers will have to compete with other national print media which are searching to find a format that will attract readers.  Here’s a bright side: When you can access everything on your iPad or Smartphone, think of the countless forests that will be saved by not producing so many daily papers.

One can hope that day will be a long time coming.  Walking out to the paper tube each morning to retrieve the RT is the opening bell for a new day.  It’s surprising to see a huge headline for someone who has a wonderful recipe for bread pudding, but at least it’s a signal that there have been no disasters overnight about which we have not heard.

The obits are a first read for those of us in the shadow of the goalposts, then, on to Sodoku, Jumble, and Wordy-Gurdy.  After finishing those, reading the headlines and editorials is about all that remains and that’s worth a look.

I’m not sure where this trend got such a foot hold, but I suspect Sports Illustrated is the original culprit:  the pun as a lead in to the story.  Such headlines as “Wildcats Claw Ducks,” “Cowboys Empty Horned Frogs’ Pond,’ or “Giants Scalp Redskins,” are classic examples.  The name of the teams and the contest lends itself to such “punishment.”  (Sorry, couldn’t resist that.)

Should real headlines fall into triteness?  I wonder if there is an editor of puns.  Consider these eye-grabbers:  “Firemen Burning Over Pay Freeze,” “Speech Therapists Mum on Contract Talks,” “Dentists Extract Teeth from Malpractice Policy.”   In every newspaper you will find some as interesting as these fictitious ones.

Enough said.  The daily newspapers and print journalism are all in peril from the digital age.  Their online circulation will soon exceed their hard copy.  Jobs will be lost, presses will shut down, newsprint will become as obsolete as oil lamps and paper mills will be idled.

The future will be quite different but let’s give our congratulations to The Roanoke Times. Their longevity has garnered our respect. We can hope that they will be around for another century or so.