Johnson's World: All the News That’s Fit to Print

Real-world examples of when only print will do.

April 1, 2015
Steve Johnson10773449

A few weeks ago I spoke at a local political event. Tempers were running high, the room was packed, and journalists from the regional media were covering what would usually be strictly a local happening.

As I finished my address and was stepping down from the podium, my smartphone began to buzz. Not 10 seconds after I finished, my Twitter, text, Facebook, and email accounts came alive.

“I saw you on TV -- looking good,” was a typical message. Nothing profound, just acknowledgement and encouragement.

“Saw you on TV tonight.” The majority were from people not even involved in the issue at hand. They had merely turned on their televisions to be informed or entertained and were surprised to see my familiar face.

I sat down, somewhat smugly assured of having achieved my promised 15 minutes of fame. Or had I?

The people at the event were excited by what I had to say, but the television audience was really only interested because they knew the speaker. In less than a minute, my cell phone went silent as television viewers moved on to the day’s murders, sports scores, and Joe Biden’s latest faux-paus.

I had been cheated! My 15 minutes of fame was more like 15 seconds. Television, the 800-pound gorilla of the media establishment, and social media, the preferred medium of the common folk, had both let me down.

The event ended, and I shirked back into oblivion.

Print to the rescue

Ten days later an acquaintance approached me in church. “Do you know you’re in this morning’s Chicago Tribune?” he asked. He was the first of many.

One of the nation’s largest newspapers had run a feature story recapping the event, including a photo with yours truly prominently featured.

Someone else mailed me a clipping of the article. (That’s mail, with an envelope and stamp.) Another dropped off their copy of the article at my house.

There are clippings of the story posted on bulletin boards in places I frequent. Copies of this newspaper, now two weeks old, are still being shared with me.

I thought I was destined to obscurity, but print came to my rescue.

The television coverage of that night may be out there somewhere on YouTube or Dailymotion, but if so it is unsearchable and lost to posterity.

I will keep a copy of that newspaper clipping along with other meaningful scraps from my life.

I have a suitcase from 1969 filled to the brim with artifacts from the Apollo 11 moon landing that I collected as a kid. Except for a 45-rpm vinyl recording of some of the television coverage, everything is in print. Everything is as readable today as it was 48 years ago. The Chicago Daily News banner page printed in full reverse (amazing for its time) is still impressive.

Obviously, the moon landing was a much more historic event than my little speech, so its video coverage can be easily found. My suitcase of clippings don’t compete with TV archives, they complement it, and send my grandchildren racing to search YouTube for videos that would otherwise be lost in a sea of cats and rappers.

I still have the 2003 Chicago Sun-Times announcing the beginning of the Iraq War in earnest with the headline “1,000 Troops Drop In From Sky.” My son was one of them. I also still have the Soldier of Fortune magazine with a photo spread of him at work on the ground in the desert.

That war isn’t a relic of history. It took place squarely in the Internet Age and was fully televised. Newspaper reporters published their reports first on blogs, then in print. Yet for memory, for detail, for posterity, we turn to print.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, a magazine with a normal distribution of 60,000 sold five million issues. Many of the buyers had never before heard of the magazine, and many didn’t even read French. They wanted a memory, a keepsake, a collectable, or just to show their support. After 12 people died for free speech, a “Like” on Facebook just wouldn’t cut it.

Sometimes, only print will do.