By Don Nelson
I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I’m supposed to be in a dusty bone pile along with the un-evolved journalistic dinosaurs or, to keep the metaphor consistent, buried in the La Brea Tar Pits of newspaper obsolescence among the other pathetic printed-word believers who stupidly sunk into their own extinction.
But here I am, a hapless remnant of an era that many furrowed-brow sages insist has already passed, running for my life in a hostile landscape of online only-ness, barely steps ahead of my own doom.
Newspapers? Dead and buried. Books? Teetering over their grave. Odds of anyone under the age of 40 ever flipping a page of any kind of publication? Sub-zero.
Well, forget that. Or maybe something stronger. Because I just keep seeing evidence that people — even people we are supposed to have written off — will find value in a print product if they find interest in print content.
I don’t have any studies to back me up, only observation and anecdotal evidence. But what I observe is sometimes startling.
This rumination was once again prompted by my experience last week at the annual Young Writers Conference at Methow Valley Elementary School.
Thursday night, I listened as kids from kindergarten on up read original stories, poems or mini-essays that they created on paper and read to us from paper. That was essential to the process for them.
On Friday, I was joined by Darla Hussey and Mike Maltais from the News staff to conduct one-hour workshops on journalism for a group of third- and fourth-graders, followed by another group of fifth- and sixth-graders.
We took each group through a century of journalism in 60 minutes, from a bound volume of original Methow Valley News issues from 1914, to stories we wrote in the classroom and posted on the News website and Facebook page along with photos taken during the workshop. It was instantaneous journalism of the kind that, yes, even we troglodytes embrace and practice.
But as was the case during similar workshops last year, the most popular props I brought to the workshops were bound volumes of issues of the News from 10 and 20 years ago.
I brought them to demonstrate how the paper had changed over time. The kids glommed onto them for another reason: They were finding things out about their community, seeing faces they recognized (including, in a couple of cases, their parents), recognizing things that resonated in their lives. It was almost tribal — youngsters absorbing the lore of their village as recorded by scribes over the decades.
It was a simple lesson: even a 10-year-old will read a newspaper if there is something of interest for them. Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s what the kids asked after we showed them the stories online, which we thought would impress them:
“Will it be in the newspaper?”
In any information age, the technology has always been the conduit. Content of any kind — even in the Twitterverse or the blogosphere or the smart phone galactic kingdom — is what people seek and consume. Technology is how they get it.
For we foolish optimists, the key to the future is not the delivery system — it will keep changing — but what we put in the readers’ hands. Print is tactile, portable and personal. Everyone can access the Internet. But a book or a newspaper is yours to hold and keep.
By the way, you can find photos from the young writers workshops and conference on page B3. It’s in the newspaper.