Column: Newspapers provide details, nuance

By Rick “Harv” Giese

Coaxed to offer my perspective on how local media has changed, I found myself drifting back to the 1950s.

Before we had TV, my fascination came from listening to radio serials like “The Lone Ranger”, “Sky King”, “The Shadow”. Family time around the radio found us listening to Amos n’ Andy and Jack Benny.

What really captivated me though, was a Sunday morning program that I think was called “Puck: The Comic Weekly”. We would hurry home from church and sprawl out on the living room floor around the comic section, waiting for the audio animated presentation of the syndicated cartoons in the Milwaukee Sentinel.

They were narrated with voices and sound effects that brought the cartoons, like Maggie and Jiggs, Prince Valiant, Popeye, and Dagwood and Blondie to life. My perception then was that the characters in the comic strips could be real and lived in a parallel universe inside my imagination.

As my tastes and curiosity grew more sophisticated, and with the acquisition of our first TV, my world began to expand, all be it, mostly in black and white, with subtle shades of grey. I relied on the radio for breaking local news and watched Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow for national news and commentary, and Walter John Chilsen (Channel 7) to find out what was happening closer to home.

Still, I relied on the newspaper for details and nuance to flesh out what came over the radio and TV.
I was first exposed to local history when the centennial edition of the Stevens Point Daily Journal was published.

School curriculums only devoted themselves to a macro covering of history: American History, World History, Ancient History. The microhistory of Stevens Point was hardly mentioned in the classroom.

Although it has yellowed with age and is permeated with smoke from my pipe, I still own my copy of the centennial special edition of the Journal.

I’ve taken the time to ask myself what I look for and depend upon in the local media. Local sports, especially if I have not been able to attend or listen to broadcasts, is something I turn to. Whenever we have a gully washer rainstorm or snowstorm I want to know officially how much rain or snow we got.

Relying on anecdotal reports from a neighbor are far from consistent or accurate, especially when I learned his rain gauge was embedded in the ground and frequently used by half a dozen squirrels and his dog as a urinal. Consulting the obituaries, I am relieved not to find my own. The reporting of local government meetings, as tedious and frustrating as it may sometimes be, is an invaluable service because it is only on rare occasions that I am able to attend.

It may be morose, but in the day when a tragic car accident occurred, and a picture was published of the car(s) involved, residents flocked to Tommy Schultz’s Service Station (then on the corner now occupied by The Store at Division and Fourth Avenue) where the vehicles were temporarily on display pending a completed investigation. It served as a graphic reminder for people to drive carefully and defensively.

On a clear day, just past midmorning, the sound of a tremendous explosion rocked Stevens Point. It was when Lipman’s Gas, near Clark and Water Street, exploded killing the owner, leveling the building, and severely damaging several others. The pictures taken by local news photographers made the national news. Toward evening, my dad drove us to the Hardware Mutual Building (now Sentry Insurance) downtown. While we waited in the car, he ventured with his movie camera, as close to the scene as barricades would allow, to film the aftermath and augment what we had seen only in stills and on the news.

Overall, our consumption of the news and the media sources from which we get it have changed a great deal. There was a time when you anxiously looked forward to the mailman and the newspaper carrier delivering each service day. Without the benefit of GPS technology, both mail and newspaper would usually find your house.

The advances of electronic media coverage have created a 24/7 news cycle and we have grown to expect news on demand. Many people have sadly lost their patience to wait for newspaper delivery or to take the time to sit down and read. To compete in this market, newspapers have had to become more creative in both their presentation and delivery of the news.

I remember when newspaper routes were covered by student carriers as their first afterschool job. Some reflected the type of day they had with their method of delivery. The conscientious dropped the paper on your doorstep. The athletic fired a fastball that struck your door with a resounding thud alerting you that the paper had arrived.

Occasionally, a carrier who may have had a horrendous day at school would deposit my newspaper on the roof overlooking my front porch. Occasionally the paper would find a puddle.

Today, although we have come to expect what we get through the media is accurate, words like “fake news” have been forced into our vocabulary. We still would like to believe what we see, what we listen to, or what we read is trustworthy, yet there are times when headlines shout and corrections or retractions only whisper.

If you have printed hard copy, or if you read online, you have not only a source to refer to, but you have the skill of writers to provide more detail and nuance. Conversations with friends often bring up the news and at times it is disconcerting that details in their memory of what they heard are also inaccurate. This third-hand cycle of what is passed on from the media can give way to intentionally or unintentionally embellishing facts and requires that to be informed we must also be our own fact checkers and consult the original source.

While trying to share my perspective, you will note that it is only my opinion. Wait! My screened front door is open and there’s the sound of a “plop” on my doorstep. Excuse me while I retrieve my newspaper securely wrapped in pages and pages and pages of ads.

“Alexa! Turn on CNN!”