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An embarrassed zebra

Published March 12. 2011 09:00AM
When I was young, a joke made the rounds. What's black and white and red all over? Actually, what was being said was "What's black and white and READ all over?" The answer, of course, was "A newspaper." Some of us silly teenagers decided to extend the joke a little. Three of our alternate answers were - "An embarrassed zebra," "a sunburned penguin" and "A bashful nun." I'm certain that you can think of some other possible answers. The original joke - with the answer "a newspaper" - reminded me that our newspapers aren't quite as "read all over" as they used to be. With the onset of the Internet and 24-hour-a-day TV news channels, print media has lost some of its status. Many people discontinued their subscriptions to newspapers and magazines and decided to get their daily news from another source. Having been a newspaper columnist for more than 15 years now, I have a deep love and affection for the folks who produce our daily papers. They work hard to make the paper relevant and interesting. From the chief honcho editor to the gal who drives her car through our development to deliver the papers each morning, each and every employee strives to serve the public in a positive way. Did you know that the first newspaper was called the "Acta Diurna" (Daily Acts)? It appeared in 131 BC in ancient Rome and was merely a record of trials and legal proceedings. Julius Caesar - in 59 BC - extended the subject matter to include births, marriages, divorces, and deaths. This first newspaper was engraved on metal or stone and displayed in public places for people to read at their leisure. Later, in 1556 in Venice, Italy, the "Notizie Scitte" was published and the public paid a small coin - a gazetta - for a copy. Hence, the common newspaper title "gazette" derived. The first American newspaper was "Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestic" which was published in Boston by Benjamin Harris - an English radical. The paper had a short life - only one issue in 1690 - before the colonial governor suppressed it. I could go on and on about the history of newspapers, but I'm sure your eyes would glaze over and this column would be less than enjoyable. But, there is a method to my madness. Throughout the ages, man has been attracted to news. Conversations start with "What's new?" People spread the word (some call it gossip) about their friends and neighbors. The lives of public figures become fodder for the rumor mill. Tell-all books become best sellers. A daily newspaper brings the world to our doorstep. We can read about foreign lands, current trends, and local politics. Surely, some publications reflect the ideologies of the ruling bosses. But, for the most part, the reader can decipher those leanings and compensate for them. When I was a baby, my parents rented an apartment on the top floor of the Times-News building on Race Street in Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe) PA. The smell of printer's ink and the sound of the press were daily parts of our lives. Many times Mom and I visited the newsroom to say 'Hi' to the workers there. Mom kept a scrapbook that contains many Times-News articles about members of our family. She was devoted to maintaining the scrapbook. Now, her great-grandchildren can read all about our family - in a black and white and "read all over" way.

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