Zaleski: Paper-and-ink newspapers vital to nation
The excellent newspaper movie, "The Post," jogged memories. I remembered that my love of newspapers came from my father. There were newspapers in our home for as long as I can remember.
He was a union printer—a linotype operator—at my hometown newspaper in New Britain, Conn. He had a chance to go to medical school in 1945 after his service in the Navy in World War II. He'd been a pharmacist's mate aboard ship. He served with a doctor who wanted to help him get a medical education after the war. But by then, he'd married my mother and I was on the way. He had learned his trade before the war. When he came home, he took a union apprenticeship that quickly led to status as a journeyman printer. That was a good deal at a time when unions were strong and tradesmen were valued.
Dad was a reader. He liked Zane Grey westerns, the short stories of Guy de Maupassant and O'Henry, Robert Louis Stevenson's classics, and Pearl Buck's "The Good Earth." He was high on the novels of John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway, and urged me to read everything they wrote, but not until I was ready to appreciate the authors' brilliance. It would be several years before I was ready. When I was, I knew from the opening lines of "The Grapes of Wrath" and "The Old Man and the Sea" that dad was right.
But what I remember as if it were yesterday was his critique of reporters and editors at his paper. He said he routinely corrected spelling and grammar when he got their raw copy at his linotype—the machine that cast hot metal type in the printing process. When I doubted his English proficiency—and that he dared correct editors—he brought home reporters' copy. It was pocked with errors that he'd circled and corrected. He knew good writing better than they did.
If that lesson were not enough, after he died I found a cigar box stuffed with letters he'd written his wife-to-be during the war. His elegant cursive script was level and legible. His words flowed like poetry. He was good with a pen, whether writing about life as a sailor or about how much he missed her. If a love letter can be both proper and steamy, the old man found the words and cadences to do just that. (The letters were lost in a flood.)
The future of newspapers and books? Bleak, some say. I am not among them. I am not of the persuasion newspapers will disappear as technology changes the way news is delivered. I know that the word in print is essential to comprehensive education, perception and eventually a measure of wisdom.
The possibility of a nation without paper-and-ink newspapers? My father would be appalled. So am I. Thinking people everywhere should be. To that end, see "The Post." In today's political miasma of "fake news," the film is a reminder of the importance of an unfettered, courageous free press.
Zaleski retired in 2017 after nearly 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He continues to write a Sunday column. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 241-5521.