SAVE ‘NEWSPAPERS,’ SAVE DEMOCRACY

September 20, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@hotmail.com

If true readers were the only people newspapers and Internet information providers had to be concerned about, there would be little reason for this essay. They are hooked on the news, educated and brought up and matured to understand the value of a free press in a free society, warts and all. An imperfect world, but what would be the alternative? No news, super-biased news? Gossip? So-called “fake news”?

Since printing began and the first sheets of paper brought news to individuals, private companies could count on people to buy enough dailies and weeklies to keep the print profession going; to support advertisers; to hold circulation stable. Now there are too few of these readers, who instead take to smart phones for word bites, no details please.

The Computer Age and the Internet, the cell phone, video games and the many morphings of television all snatch concentration time away from people, who seem busier than ever with seemingly endless schedules. There are fewer lunches spent with a newspaper; fewer evenings after dinner in an easy chair with the editorial page or columnists; fewer open pages of The Daily This or That spread across the kitchen table.

Now it’s the constantly-on computer or smart phone and Google. In milliseconds, much information appears —  too much, too quickly. News is read in headlines and short paragraphs, barely digested. Photographs and other images steal viewer time, reducing the brain’s word count.

This means fewer print readers and fewer newspapers sold, putting many out of business. What were once cash-cow operations that left the newsroom to do its job without interference are profit-driven companies that enact cuts everywhere and which call their papers “products” that require front-office managing by non-newspapermen so as to guarantee the bottom line. Once the city room was a church of sorts, an information sanctuary, left unsullied by businessmen who could never understand news people anyway. But they made money for the bosses. Now they don’t make enough.

More than ever, newspapers are decided by profit, and that affects what to cover; how deeply reporting goes; how thorough the editing is; and whether the traditional “who, what, when, where, how and why” of journalism will continue as creed or whether one or two of the pillars of fact-gathering fall to cost-cutting, thereby weakening the story and journalism itself. And democracy. Because democracy dies in darkness, in not questioning government and society.

The Computer Age, with its great but flawed ability to offer “facts” and commentary so quickly; to spread such information around the globe; and to keep it in reference form that eventually can out the wrong-doers presents an opportunity to add to individual knowledge and so empower him or her to self-educate. And since education leads to questioning, the hope is that the Internet’s ever more vast store of words, data and images will make our younger people more like the newspaper readers of other years — those who question, those who think.

The challenge for newspapers with digital sites is to present Internet information in such a way as to make the reader interactive, to want more details, to then ask questions in e-mail letters, in Internet forums and blogs.

There will always be a thirst for information. Humans have craved news since the first of us scrawled something on a rock wall. And businessmen will always want to make a profit. If they can do that in the information delivery business, fine. Might even make some of them feel a lofty goal is being met.

What we all must do, whether we are the kind who grew up with three newspapers a day in the house seven days a week or if we are online perusers of news, is to support information delivery. Buy newspapers. Read them. Turn on the Internet but truly seek information and understand it, and then question. The “who, what, when, where, why and how”  still must be satisfied.  We must read, in print or online, then question, then react. And most of all, if there is no “why” or “how,” if any key word in the pursuit of a free and open press is missing, we must let the bean counters in the media know.

Otherwise, the free press will lose the ammunition it needs to keep us safe from individuals and groups seeking to control the information flow for their own anti-democratic, greedy purposes. They would rather not have the media watching them.

 

The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier version.

 

-30-

ALTERED BEAT

Twin Towers steel at Haverstraw Bay Park, Rockland County, N.Y./gunther photo

 

September 11, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     There is rhythm to our lives, and when it is seriously interrupted, the beat changes forever. And so it was with September 11, 2001.

When  9/11 hit in terroristic horror 20 years ago, I was at the former Rockland Journal-News building in West Nyack, N.Y., just 20 miles from the World Trade Center. As Editorial Page Editor, I had been at my desk since 4 a.m., getting advance pages and copy ready. My day, like any of us then, quickly changed. So did thousands of lives, forever.

The newspaper, as all media, scrambled at 8:45 a.m., even as we shook our heads and kept glancing at the TV images of the Twin Towers ablaze, the tragedy at the Pentagon, the smoking field in Pennsylvania when United Flight 93 crashed after courageous passengers diverted the plane from its D.C. target.

Later that Tuesday, there would be much crying in Rockland County over the loss of area civilians, New York City firefighters and NYPD and Port Authority police officers who were among the dead in the attacks.

About 3,000 individuals of all race and creed, economic and immigrant background and political persuasion were killed in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. 

Funerals after funerals followed, many for those whose bodies could not be found, and they continue today for the 9/11 responders who developed cancer from building debris.

Communities noted hometown heroes like Welles Remy Crowther, an equity trader and “The Man in the Red Bandana,” who selflessly rescued people in the Twin Towers and died as the Upper Nyack, N.Y., volunteer firefighter he proudly was.

Area municipalities now have memorials and annual observances.

The War on Terror began, and the U.S. became another of the countries which have invaded Afghanistan over the centuries, America hoping to rout evil but finding that quest illusive as we now see in the latest failure in Afghanistan.

Trillions have been spent on the battle against terrorism, not all of it accounted for.  Sadly, some have profited either financially or by using this long moment of national, human tragedy to push the prejudice of painting all of one kind with a single brush.

Few commentators have noted that hatred helped bring on 9/11, and that such crop is fertilized if democracies lose their moral compass and encourage citizen neglect elsewhere by supporting dictators when that is convenient; if countries do not speak out for decency and act according to their stated creed. Hate grows then, with the hungry easily persuaded through false promise.

At my old newspaper on that fateful day, we did what we were trained to do – present the who, what, when, where, how, why of the terrorist attacks. We wrote the stories, including the sad but uplifting human reports, presented graphic images and offered commentary.

The Journal-News, and much media, had done this before, of course, covering world wars, natural disasters, death and destruction. That is the beat of information delivery.

What we in the newsroom of my time did not expect was that our heartbeats would change, our rhythm would be different after Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The newsroom of December 7, 1941, had its own blips on the oscilloscope, and now we understood, too, about the horror of sudden attack on a nation but also the reaffirming heroism of so many of its people.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is based on an earlier report.

                              – 30-

A GOVERNMENT OF ‘US’

Painting/gunther

By Arthur H. Gunther III

the columnrule.com

ahgunther@hotmail.com

 

America’s Labor Day has morphed beyond the usual public time off — picnics and other respite — that recognizes workers. Now it is also 24 hours of heightened uncertainty. There is worry over whether the job you have now, if you are working, will be there next year. And if the part-time spot will ever turn into full time. And if health benefits will continue, if they exist. Pensions? Forget them — they have largely disappeared. Instead, you go it almost alone with a 401K, without much help from employers, and you will probably deplete that long-term investment to pay bills along the way. Retirement may mean poverty. Then there is the Covid decimation of life, economy and hope.

Yet past Labor Days have been tough, too. The Great Depression brought extreme unemployment, and some men held no job until they were drafted for World War II. That conflict ended the economic malaise, and America, not battle-ravaged Europe or Asia, was ready to restart civilian goods factories. Times boomed and prosperity brought us suburbs, super highways and a large middle class. Enduring the deep, dark hopelessness of the Depression and a number of recessions in every decade since were part of the trudging journey.

Today, just a little more than a decade after the nation narrowly avoided another depression in the irresponsible greed of the mortgage/banking crisis, our jitters, the undermining of confidence in the American Dream, are bone-deep. We trudge again. 

The light at the end of the tunnel is remembering that America, our great America, began long before the Boston Tea Party, Lexington and Concord and the Revolution. It grew from the footsteps of those men, women and children who landed at Plymouth Rock and in the Virginias and then spread in every direction, especially west, which metaphorically is our never-ending frontier. The self-reliance, independence and  ingenuity, the can-do, survival, make-it-happen attitude set us apart from old Europe. Our Declaration of Independence celebrates all this in stirring, inspired language that defines the ground rules for government of the people, by the people, for the people. But how many of us in this increasingly politically polarized country know of and understand the “experiment” in democracy begun by our founders? The January 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol is proof of ignorance.

We must admit to terrible racism, the horrors of the Civil War, mistakes like the World War I Sedition Acts and the 1940s internment of the Japanese, and, most of all, the long-ago forced relocation of the only people in this nation who do not need a Green Card — our Native Americans. Yet the instruments of our success, the intent and fulfillment of at least some bedrock principles in Declaration and the Constitution, have also righted many wrongs while so many others await remediation.

It is in America’s greatness, in its original intent, derived from the DNA of its peoples, native and immigrant, that our oratory can steer us straight once again. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech were born of us all.

So, on this workers’ holiday in our great America, we recall the beginning and know our source of strength, purpose, direction. This is a worrisome Labor Day, with a disappearing middle class and all that means for economic stability and progress; with a worldwide killing virus that has battered families, economies and hope; with the threat of more war; with Washington polarization seemingly set on party ideology but truly well-directed by greedy, even sinister special interests. We Americans must again be revolutionary and demand of the government that is us, that it truly be us once more.

 

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                                  -30-

ROCKIN’

August 30, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com 

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     I have now over-saturated my ears in tribute to Charlie Watts, last week late of the Rolling Stones, who must be rockin’ Heaven. Don’t care for Mick Jagger’s on-stage theater but Charlie, the classy, low-keyed drummer, was the yang to that yin, and his steady beat with so many detours down alleys of improvisation constantly fertilized the great lyrics and the Stones’ group performance. Charlie is owed by Mick, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood. Also past members Ian Richards, Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor.

     There have been many great drummers over the decades in this century and before, all with the key backbeat job so the performers out front could strut and shine. Just as drums mark cadence in the military, the band drummer’s beat is the metronome for the rest of the crew.

     Hail Charlie, Ringo, Baby Dodds of the Jazz Age, Buddy Rich of the Big Band era, Cindy Blackman of jazz and so many others who have and do keep the steady while the house rocks.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                        -30-

SKILLS FORGOTTEN

August 23, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

One of the qualifications of “progress” is that as new technology replaces the old, or brings it on in the first place, tried and true habits honed by trial, error, ingenuity, make-do and survival are lost.

For example, in this age of air conditioning, a simple concept like hot air circulation is forgotten. Recently, I was in an old New York village on a very warm day attending a gathering in a late-1800s building, three stories high. No AC, and it was stifling with perhaps 100 people there. The windows were open, but they were awning types, so there was no circulation like you get with double-hung windows. Wiping away the sweat, I looked up, and at about three stories there were other windows, all shut but with long chains dangling. It was soon obvious that the chains were meant to open the upper windows so that the heat could escape, replaced by cooler ground-level air.

Once upon a time this building would have had a sexton whose job it was to open those upper windows, or there would have been a fellow who understood the common sense of air circulation and who would have pulled on those chains. An art lost, it seems, in the modern AC age.

You can extend this thinking to other things: When I was younger, there was a neighborhood carpenter who would fix furniture so that you didn’t have to throw it out. Someone brought him a large table, probably 100 years old, most likely made from wood that was 200 years in the growing. The table had split after decades of drying, and it looked lost by today’s standards. But this crafty fellow, after scratching his head a bit, reached into his coveralls’ upper pocket, took out his folding rule, measured in three places along the table’s 8-foot length, went over to an old woodpile, pulled out some oak scraps similar to the table’s stock, hand-cut these pieces into wedge shapes, traced them on the table, cut holes and then glued everything together with huge pipe clamps. He saved the day, and to boot, the clamps were also made from scrap – old plumbing.

That table is still in my friend’s house. Today it would be on the junk pile, replaced by a new one much younger and perhaps less beautiful.

The point of the story is that in a faster-paced world, on the quicker journey, we have forgotten to bring along some of the skills that once allowed us to survive, those efforts that also instilled pride in what we could accomplish.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier version.

                                       -30-

‘KETCHUP PASSED MUSTARD’

 

August 16, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

It may seem hilarious and even back-woodsy, but there was a moment, a long one, when at 2 a.m. in a diner, say Hogan’s in West Nyack, N.Y., when you instinctively pulled up your feet as the floor guy came by, splashing Clorox and water at the terrazzo floor. Hey, if he hit your shoes, they were washed too — for free.

Hogan’s, the old one, the place that looked like Edward Hopper’s image of a diner, was not fancy, although the food, short order mostly, was so well practiced a craft there that it could have been cordon bleu. Hogan’s would not be fancy — it’s clientele would not have that. It was just a down-to-earth comfortable joint, and joint was OK. It connected the dots in your life.

I’d hit the place, sometimes, after my photographer shift at the also old Rockland Journal-News in nearby Nyack. I might sit at the counter, where stools were placed on a bulkhead, so you didn’t worry about the floor guy. Other times I was too tired for that and needed a rest at my back, so I took to one of the 8 or 10 booths along the defining front windows of the railway car-like diner.

Also at about 2 a.m., the waitress would come by and toss a fresh bottle of ketchup across the table, and you hardly noticed that either, reflexively reaching for it with left hand while grabbing the near-empty with the right and then swinging that back to her in a return shot. You did this with the sugar, too.

It was life in an old diner, and if you were a regular like me, you were family, so you helped out. You may not have known the cook, the waitress, the floor guy by name, but a wink or nod was all you needed to keep in touch anyway. Diners weren’t much about talking.

Ketchup was a quality marker in the old diners. Hogan’s used fresh stock to refill, but some others watered the mix. Aficionados, and they went to old diners, too, understood that ketchup, a freshly filled bottle, had to be slapped at the bottom to get the flow going. Or you could use the old slide-in-the-table-knife trick. If a full bottle poured easily, it wasn’t choice.

Like everything else at Hogan’s, the ketchup passed mustard. In that, and in the place itself, the new day’s anchor was set at its mooring for night newspaper stiffs like me.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. This piece is adapted from an earlier column.

                                                -30-

THE NEWS PILE

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III 

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

If you could capture images of the past and store them as memory files that could be flashed on a computer screen, then I would show you what my bedroom in Hillcrest, N.Y., looked like at age 19, in another century literally. 

My room – almost 60 percent of the Cape Cod-style attic – was cavernous enough so that the Armstrong cork tile floor, in shades of dark, medium and light brown, could accommodate layers of newspapers, simply dropped there by a teen who thirsted after the ink sheets and who did not have to pay for them since the daily rags were bought by my father. 

There was the morning Daily News and Mirror, the afternoon New York Journal-American and the New York World Telegram & Sun, all out of New York City, and the local Rockland Journal-News, the original 1889 daily that was absorbed into a three-county paper in 1998. I liked features in every edition: the gritty tabloid reports in the Mirror and Daily News; the “double-truck” (two pages, facing) photo spread in the News; the numerous columnists in the Journal-American and the World-Telegram; the financials and society news of the Telegram; and the local reports of my growing suburbs. 

I would look over these papers in favorite position – reclining on a “Hollywood-style” single bed – on and off through the day and into the evening. I should have been at my studies, but I was not. I also should have been keeping the room, really a luxury for a young fellow because of its size and privacy, neat, but I did not. A few years back, my mother had refused to clean it anymore or to straighten up, since I was supposedly a big boy and could do that on my own. Well, I didn’t. 

Not that there was food about or other unsightly stuff that might bring bugs or the Health Department. I was simply lazy, didn’t get checked on it, didn’t have the right conscience about it and utterly enjoyed my sanctuary. The sight of those papers lying there was like walking into a private library. 

And I loved libraries – formal places such as the Finkelstein in Spring Valley, near Hillcrest. But often the books were “untouchable.” I had difficulty reading at length, actually concentrating, which was discovered some years later and which I learned to compensate for based on a speed-reading technique. 

Yet I had no trouble scanning newspapers. The photos were interesting, and I greatly enjoyed the forceful speech in the News editorials. The opinion cartoons there, especially C.D. Batchelor’s on the dangers of drunken driving (wow, in 1961?) were great. The columnists in these papers were at times poetic, strong, emotional, charmingly aloof, and all-in-all interesting. They were my kind of reading. 

I did not know it, but poring over the papers every day, even in the “mess” I created, was my first post-high school education. In a few years, without deliberate intent, I actually found myself working for a newspaper, The Rockland Journal-News, and in my 42 years there would photograph, report, edit and write what I think were forceful editorials as well as pen a weekly column much like this one. 

So, Mom, I did make a mess, but it turned out to be for a reason, praise be. 

The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier one.

                                   -30-

IN THE MIX

‘COLOR’/gunther 2021

August 2, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     In these colors – black, white, brown, red, yellow – there is humanity and inhumanity. We do not see clear colors, untouched by others – that is impossible no matter the prejudice. You can live and die in one color, but your eternity is in the mix.

     The painting might just as well be fully black for that is the root of all human pigment. It is not because as in a brown planting field in season, the colors of the rainbow abound, giving beauty but then sustenance. 

     And variety. There are different tastes in the various hues of vegetables and fruits, preferable to individuals. In the finish, the compost pile has them all, mingled into stimulant for the next crop.

     In the end, no color stands alone forever, no gender is paramount, no political philosophy survives but in the mix. As the dying Indian says in “High Tor,” the 1936 Maxwell Anderson play, “Nothing is made by men but makes, in the end, good ruins.”

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                     -30-

THE RIDE

July 25, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

One recent day, I took a car ride with an intriguing woman (all are), and we had conversation. Never sure where those mutual talks lead, as I draw from a stream of consciousness, and the partner usually does the same. That means you are in the current, and it can be fast-moving; it can swirl into a placid pond and linger a bit; it can go over rocks, even waterfalls and lead to lakes, even an ocean. Much like relationships.

The lady and I were riding past part of the lower Hudson River Valley mountain range. I have had other such conversations in this region, and the description already given about how both water and relationships proceed or stumble or end or diverge fits. Somehow you never forget the journey.

My lady, though I am not sure she is truly mine, is actually a painting, an acrylic on wood panel, 24 x 24, and we were headed for the members’ show at an art center about five miles from Anthony’s Nose, the mountain that looks across the Hudson at its brother, Bear Mt.

The woman in the painting will no doubt be shy among stronger work from far better artists, but she’s to be the room, and her friend is happy about that. Good enough.

Who is the lady? Maybe my remembered conversation with her will tell me more in a discovery that leads somewhere, even to tributaries that do not extend very far.

The painting, and so the woman, began as a search for color. I deliberately chose her green coat, or perhaps blouse, and her red Irish lass’s hair. She is a stand-out lady, against a background of yellow ochre and similar color mixed and applied to show the stain of the wood, a medium preferable to me than canvas for this piece.

Her expression was painted last, for that is her soul. We only find that in exquisite moments, if we ever see the within at all. I drew her sharp nose, mouth and chin first, guided by the well of prior observation. I have seen such line before. When her eye was finished and the rouge of her face applied, she was there.

I like her. I may even love the lady, not as an art piece, for it may not be that at all, but for the feeling.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier piece.

                                          -30-

 

DEFINING A PLACE

photo/gunther

 

July 19, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

 

Every home has its entrance, perhaps a front porch or steps or inside foyer. So it is with places, usually introduced by paths, then roads.

In Rockland County, N.Y., close to Gotham but oh so many miles away ifrom urbanity there is a winding, quite old road from Pomona to Haverstraw, through New City.

It is the road of artists, writers, thespians. So much creativity has begun there over centuries, fiiting experience to the annual birth of apples and peaches at the 1700s Concklin Orchards in the Ramapo hamlet of Pomona, named after the Goddess of Fruit

South Mountain Road, Pomona to Haverstraw, the route of artists and fruit farmers, of thespians and writers, of High Tor ghosts, also has a magic tree in the Concklin orchard. It is the doorman to this enchanted land.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

-30-