Ink and Independence

Published 12:38 pm Friday, July 5, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

I have a routine when it comes to writing this column. It’s not much, and perhaps it shows: I prepare a mug of hot milky tea and type the word ‘Column’ on the subject line to the editors that will receive it. I don’t fill in their names until it’s finished, which is generally five to ten minutes later. That’s right—I write at the speed that some drive on the autobahn.

But what is distressing is that the list of editors has grown smaller and smaller in the nearly 20 years that I’ve been knocking out this weekly pile of pithiness. As a syndicated columnist, among the hatful of other things I do to pay the equine feed and vet bills, I have both been a huge fan, as well as envious of, Dave Barry. To have had HIS career, could you imagine? A monthly column in 500 papers, as well as winning the Pulitzer Prize. I could care less about the prize, but 500 papers individually paying monthly for the privilege of running a column that each editor knew was the first thing their readers turned to, well, that would buy a LOT of hay…

What’s sad to consider is that I don’t think Dave, if he were to begin his journalistic career today, would have had nearly the success he had—simply because more and more newspapers are quietly closing. I did a quick check to see if the local paper Dave cut his teeth on directly out of college—The Daily Local News—was still being published in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Yes and no: in 2017 it downsized to digital form and relocated its headquarters from the West Chester building that housed it since 1970 to its printing plant in Uwchlan. But at least it is still solvent.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Like many, I blithely assumed newspapers, regardless of whether they are printed or digital, would always be there. The first time I attended a state-wide annual press award banquet as a nominee, my heart both stirred and swelled as I watched journalists from different papers receive recognition for covering hugely important events in their respective communities: investigative articles covering arson, holding local politicians accountable, uncovering corruption in state and local agencies…when our local papers close—and many are holding on by their fingernails—who will do that? Who will publish that photo of your grandson making the game-winning catch? Your daughter in mid-stride at the state track finals? Who will dig until the ugly truth is found about bribes taken by a member of city council? Or funds meant to be spent on combating mold in the classrooms being quietly diverted elsewhere? God in heaven, I thought at that banquet, How noble a profession this is. What heroes these reporters are. I’m not sure if I’ve ever experienced such an inspiring evening before or since. 

All of this feels so pointedly important with Independence Day on our doorstep. While we celebrate our country’s long, bloodied, and victorious fight against being ruled by a King, holding hands with that triumph is our First Amendment rights of free speech, both spoken and in the press. One can only hope we continue to support both.