Goodbye to a lover (mostly) of local newspapers

[Mom and dad read the daily papers. Photo circa 1980s.]

La Porte County (Indiana) newspapers may have lost their most faithful reader with the passing of my mom, Carolyn Reason, on Thanksgiving Day. Sadly, crosswords will now go unsolved. Typos will go undiscovered. Comics, columns and coupons will go unclipped; the tomfoolery of local officials will not be remarked upon.

Yes, local editors, you can rest a little easier with one less reader to call and complain about an error, an unclear story, or worse, today’s edition showing up more than a half hour late in the paper box.

As early as I can recall, Carolyn had the Michigan City News Dispatch and/or the La Porte Herald-Argus (or weekly  Town-Crier) in her lap, was awaiting their arrival or remarking on their contents. It was just a household habit – to get the paper, devour it, fight over the sections, talk about it. Even if it became a lament at times of “there’s nothing in this damn thing,” my parents have regularly received two or more regional papers for decades. It wasn’t unusual to see one or two other papers bought from the newsstand, lying on the family room floor or waiting to go into recycle, when I’d return home to visit. The South Bend Tribune was always added to the mix on Sundays.

That I went on to make a career in newspapers and journalism education, visiting dozens of newsrooms around the world and teaching hundreds of journalists along the way, from Des Moines to Dubai, is in no small part due to my mom’s addiction to La Porte County papers, and their coverage of local affairs.

Her devotion to typo-hunting, I think, made us kids try harder on spelling tests or when taking our turn at a spelling bee. Her laughter at the latest Erma Bombeck column (I know I’m taking some readers way back here, anyone else who doesn’t know Erma, just Google her) made us appreciate the wacky side of life, and made me try my hand at column writing. I tested the waters in my high school paper, then in the teen pages of the Westville Indicator, Herald-Argus, South Bend Trib, and later at the Indiana Daily Student, my college paper at IU-Bloomington. I got hooked.

[A veritable buffet of typos from a local paper
that caught my mom’s eye and she mailed, with joy, to me.]

Though my first real job took me halfway across the country, to Florida, the distance was made easier for mom when she got acquainted with my employer, the St. Petersburg Times. She loved that paper, and devoured it when they would come to visit. She made friends with my fellow editors and many other staffers. After my parents curtailed their Florida trips, they still read the Times daily online, even hectoring web producers from afar if something seemed unclear or amiss, and would share observations with me about what they learned (especially the latest happenings with Ferg’s Sports Bar). When she became sick from the effects of chemo this summer, our dear friend Anne Glover, a Times website manager, sent a box of recent copies of the Times to distract her. It didn’t matter that the papers were a bit old –  they were evidence of life as it happened, and she loved the idea of that, especially if presented well, and accurately, as do I.

Her favorite features included the obits, a bit of an obsession. It was the highest sin for a newspaper to screw something up in an obit – worthy of a call of complaint to the newsroom. She remarked in recent years how humbled she was to see so many people younger than she, featured in any day’s obits. I know this made her more grateful to reach the stage in life that she did. (Imagine my trepidation in tackling the writing of her obit this week – I think for the most part it came out okay … link is below.)

[It wasn’t all crankiness about typos: mom genuinely loved finding odd
and interesting things in the paper, and even read the classifieds religiously. These are typical clippings, with her annotations, that she loved passing along.]

Yes, mom made the migration to online news, along with the masses. Her alerts expanded to informing us about what stories appeared in the online edition of one local paper, but not in the print edition of another. “Don’t these people know the stories they are missing?” she would lament. But her heart remained with the print editions. (Perhaps thanks to the coupons?) She delighted in informing family and friends of things found in the paper. As her friend, and favorite bartender, Crystal White, wrote on the online guestbook for her obituary: “I could always count on her for the most updated news of the day! I guess I will have to read the paper myself now.”

Even with all its inevitable faults (I often had to explain, mom, newspapers and websites are put together by human beings and we make mistakes), there was something about a paper arriving at the house that she treasured. On the morning she died, she delighted that the papers showed up on a holiday.

The ritual of helping to go through her things in recent days is made bittersweet, but still sweet, with the discovery of numerous newspaper clippings: their wedding notice that ran nearly 20 paragraphs on Page 2 of the now-defunct Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger … clips of grandkids shown in photos of elementary soccer or softball victories … a yellowed copy of USA Today (or “the USA paper” as she called it), in which I was interviewed for a story about college internships, when I worked briefly at The Washington Post … recipes for linguine with clam sauce, her favorite, clipped from the food pages and tucked into her cookbooks.

Another faded clip is priceless. At age 9, mom was interviewed by the Chicago Daily Tribune, for its “Inquiring Camera Girl” feature, which asked kids on the street, what are you going to do when you grow up? “I’m not going to be an old maid.” (Check.) “I’m not going to have that new look either.” (Check.) “Ladies shouldn’t drink either, so I won’t.” (Her kids, grandkids, and my folks’ devoted drinking buddies from Hammer’s bar in Michigan City got a chuckle about how wrong that one turned out.)

[What better gift for a son graduating with a journalism degree
than this clipping from the paper, which mom had enlarged and framed?]

The most poignant artifacts on newsprint, though, were the inspirational poems she saved and inserted into her address book, including “Don’t Grieve For Me For Now I’m Free,” probably clipped from Dr. Donohue or Dear Abby or another advice column. It will be read at her services this weekend. (Also in the address book: the payment envelope for one of their newspaper route drivers. I hope dad or someone remembers to keep up the payments, for a while, anyway.)

As newspapers “transition,” shall we say, I wonder what will become of these rites of passage? Certainly the sharing of mom’s photos (not to mention the news of her death) has been instantaneous, healing, humorous and sorrowful, thanks to Facebook. But will families in the future read their loved ones’ favorite Tweets at their wakes? Will printouts of web pages featuring grade school soccer triumphs be circulated among mourners? Whatever traditions evolve, something tells me they won’t be as sweet, or as heartfelt. Thank you mom, and thank you, all who have produced the newspapers she relished.

[Mom and dad’s 50th anniversary portrait – also published
in the local papers, four years ago.]

* * *

When I launched this website, the very first site about newspaper design and editing, in 1997, my mom was my first and best critic, and emailed me quickly if she found a typo or suspect sentence construction. If any readers of this blog entry find any typos, please alert me, pronto. Occasionally, WordPress updates will insert random characters for dashes or punctuation in older formatting, so if it looks like gremlins have taken over, that may be why.  

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5 Comments

  1. Kerry ORourke

     /  November 29, 2011

    I enjoyed reading this, Ron. My parents also read several papers every day and I know that influenced my decision to study journalism. And I’ll never regret that because I got to work with you at the IDS…I still remember the slug slips you passed to me as the wire editor on the night Ethel Merman died.

  2. Christine

     /  November 29, 2011

    Ron, I loved this. You’re such a beautiful writer, and I feel as if I know your Mom after reading this.
    Thinking of you.

  3. Marge

     /  November 29, 2011

    Ron, I have know your mom for years and we would always discuss that day’s crosswod puzzle. In fact one year, Lori had a huge crossword from the Zanesville Times Recorder – she she was delighted that Lori gave it to her. And boy, when the papers would leave out the bottom lines because they did not have it aligned correctly – the paper would hear about that…So glad I got to meet you in these last few years. Your mom & dad are super and they are lucky to have you as a son.They always talked highly of you and I can see why. The Reasons are the kind of family I am honored to know XO

  4. Marge

     /  November 29, 2011

    Ron, I have know your mom for years and we would always discuss that day’s crosswod puzzle. In fact one year, Lori had a huge crossword from the Zanesville Times Recorder – Carolyn was delighted that Lori gave it to her. And boy, when the papers would leave out the bottom lines because they did not have it aligned correctly – the paper would hear about that…So glad I got to meet you in these last few years. Your mom & dad are super and they are lucky to have you as a son.They always talked highly of you and I can see why. The Reasons are the kind of family I am honored to know XO

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