This week I’ve pondered the announcement of the 2013 Pulitzer prizes and the importance of recognizing one of America’s most important national treasures – the so-called “Fourth Estate,” the watchdogs of our democracy, the exposers of scoundrels and evil; the people who have shaped our civil society and made it better since Benjamin Franklin started molding his thoughts into type on a printing press.
Without publishers and without brave, dedicated reporters and writers, lynchings would have never been described on the front pages of papers across the U.S., “McCarthy Era” wouldn’t be part of the lexicon, hunger in Appalachia would still be a rumor, the Civil Rights movement would never have gotten off the ground, Watergate would just be a hotel somewhere, and it’s doubtful we would have ever learned that in Saddam’s Iraq people had to get a license to own a typewriter.
The type of people who win Pulitzer prizes are the screaming-demon nightmares of dicators and wrongdoers, and we should thank them daily for making the world safer and better.
My appreciation and addiction to good newspapers began when I got a route to throw the Abilene Reporter-News in my high school days, in the early 1960s. It was my foolish teenage habit to stay out late on Saturday nights, drive down to the paper plant at the edge of downtown Abilene and sit on the loading dock, waiting for my route to be bundled as it came off the presses. (Yes, the pressmen really did wear those funny hats made out of folded-up newsprint).
With the presses humming and clunking in the background, the wire-photo machine a few feet away making strange sparking sounds and metallic smells, I’d pick up a copy of the previous day’s afternoon edition and read just about every word: news, sports, stock market, ads, want ads, obits – you name it, my 14-year-old brain absorbed it. To this day, over a half-century later, when I smell a newspaper I get a flash of 2 a.m. at the back of the Abilene Reporter-News.
Later, not smart enough to be a newspaperman, I found myself as a young street reporter and sometimes anchor at a news radio station owned by the parent company of the Dallas Morning News. At one time I gained the incredible privilege of visiting the News’ “morgue” every day, spinning through microfilm of old newspapers for a “This Day in History” series I did on radio. The presses were bolted to the floor of the basement in the old News building on Young Street in downtown Dallas, and while sitting at the table where microfilm readers were sitting, on the third floor, I could feel those mighty machines shaking the whole building. It was a laugh-out-loud kind of thrill. Sometimes I’d leave the Morning News building by way of the newsroom and the joy of actually seeing The Truth being typed out in front of my eyes was thrilling beyond any words I can come up with.
And so, you can see I am a connoisseur of newspapers, and I claim to know a good one when I read it. I’ve traveled in every one of the U.S. 48 contiguous states, and I’ve read a newspaper or two in almost every one of those states, and I can tell you I have never encountered one better than the Wise County Messenger.
Count your very lucky stars, readers. You have a national treasure right here at your doorsteps in Wise County. Good reportage, great photography, outstanding sense of community service and some pretty darn good writing. It’s all found right here in Wise County. Read it, tell your friends to read it, read it to your kids and grandkids.
Just remember this: the first order of business for dictators, scoundrels, professional liars and persons in high power with low character is to shoot the Messenger!