I recently read about Greg Weinman in the Chicago Tribune newspaper who inherited over 2,000 newspapers, historically headlined, his father had collected for nearly a century. He needed to dispose of them because he is moving and no longer has the space to store them. Libraries and universities didn’t want them so he will lay them out on his driveway and invite the public to take what they want. He’ll put what remains in the recycle bin.
This story reminded me of a fifth-grade field trip I took in the early seventies to the printing plant of the Chicago Daily News newspaper. The shiny white linoleum underfoot guided our small marching feet down a long hall. My nose wrinkled because of the inky smell in the air. I remembered the windows, lots of them, on our left, and I had to stand tall with my chin up to look through them; I was shorter back then. I heard the loud rhythmic hum of churning presses and saw wide-eyed unending blank paper rolls threading through well-oiled machinery. Cylindrical drums of steel worked in sync with long conveyor belts like roller-coasters, churning out newspapers in breakneck speed as if I was eavesdropping on a conversation when a dialogue of undisclosed information would soon be public.
I delighted in watching how the stories were tucked in master folds with prominent headlines in bold and black overlapping on a conveyor belt, knowing that soon the folds would be opened and the secrets once only held by the reporter would be released.
I loved reading the papers. I saw how the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Daily News were a part of my parents’ lives. Their stories came to life when they would read the columns to one another at the kitchen table or to my brother and I in the family room. They’d shout out sentences that disturbed them or made them laugh. My mother often would read an entire article out loud, if I let her, because it evoked anger in her.
Reading a story may prompt us to reach out to help someone in need or an opinion piece may make us realize we are not alone. We consider how we fit into our world and with the people different from us, yet may see how alike we are.
Reporters who tell us the facts and writers who consider opinions and editorials of points of view, teach us not only history but also tolerance for differences and perspectives. Newspapers are our textbooks where generations can understand world wars, read quotes from soldiers to hear them in their voices, Supreme Court decisions, and presidential upsets, civil rights marches, and shocking deaths. Newspapers open eyes to our world, influence our decisions, and motivate us to take part.
“I think my father saw them as little time capsules. My father was a storyteller. He used to teach me history through the papers,” Weinman said.
When holding to our faces an inky, long, slender newspaper page makes us focus on the times of our lives.
I can understand why Weinman felt that his newspapers were like part of the family. He became connected.
Weinman will let go of the past, when he displays the old newspapers, folded with bold headlines popping in rows on his driveway as they once were when grabbed from the printing press. The newspapers will be recycled but the impressions and influence they had on our lives will remain just as I once saw the newspapers come to life at the Chicago Daily News.
There will be another day and another press run when new stories will be read and we will connect, in one way or another.