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Robert Kirby: It’s still all the news you can take

Robert Kirby

Times have changed. To figure out what was going on in the world more than a hundred years ago took real effort. And a real newspaper. By this I mean one made out of paper.

A guy needed to get out of bed, shave, get dressed, eat breakfast, drink coffee, put on his coat, kiss the wife and head down to the local streetcar stop. After all that, he was still just as clueless as he was before he woke up.

Things changed upon arrival at the streetcar stop. These were the haunts of newsies, kids hawking the latest reportable happening. Flipping a nickel to a newsie allowed a selection from among Salt Lake’s choice of daily newspapers.

For purposes of this scenario, lets go with the Salt Lake Herald-Republican. The city had about half a dozen daily papers when paper was the only game in town.

During the ride downtown to the office, our hero would get up to speed on what the world was doing and what might be essential topics around the water cooler.

For example, in Rome, the Pope wasn’t talking to Theodore Roosevelt unless the latter shunned the Methodists. Somewhere in China, bandits had killed a few missionaries. The Huns were getting surly again.

Closer to home, the news wasn’t any brighter. Elvira Bootlong was killed when her fiancé overturned his flivver on the road to Holladay. A hobo fell off the Rio Grande and Western and was ground to pieces over half a mile of track. A burglar was shot in the buttocks while attempting to flee Ogden cops. Watered down milk was discovered being sold in Bingham.

These old newspapers had it all — because newspapers were all anyone had.

This includes pages and pages of advertising. Weak, diseased and dissipated men could have their system restored to manliness for just a couple of bucks. Women could get relief from their menses with turkey bile and goat hooves. An illustration of a grinning child, announces “Howdy, White Folks. Castle Gate Coal is as Black as Me!”

Things are much more convenient now, not to mention less racist. You don’t even have to get out of bed. Just open your phone and tap into your favorite feeds. It’s possible to find out what’s going on in Russia, China, and even outer space with a flick of your thumb.

With the announcement by The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News of ceasing daily print editions, is it possible the day of newspaper is done? I don’t think so. We’ve been scared like this before.

For example, when the average home could afford a radio, the airwaves could not only bring you the news, but stay on top of it from minute to minute. It wasn’t like having to wait until the next morning to see if they managed to get a lady out of a well in New Jersey.

Sure, newspapers took a hit from such timeliness, but we were still going strong when television — that’s radio with moving pictures — burst onto the scene.

Not only could you stay on top of a story, you could watch it in replay and slow motion. It got to the point where if the Viet Cong had the right TV connections, they could actually watch themselves get killed.

Now we have the internet vying for the public’s sparse attention. The news hasn’t really changed. Just the way it’s delivered.

There are too many things where the needs remain the same. Competent reporting, telling people what they need to know, trusting the information. Also, whether it’s by paper or laptop, the news is impossible to read if you leave it out in the rain too long.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.
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