Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

January 6, 2014

Columbus just had a better press agent than Leif Eriksson

— — The new paywall thing we have for the paper led me to a nice telephone conversation with a former Mercer County resident who is now living in Canada. Her name is Margie, and she had apparently reached the limit of her free access to the online edition of the newspaper. She wanted to talk to someone in circulation about it, but it was mid-afternoon on a Saturday and her call bounced up into the newsroom.

At that moment, her home in New Brunswick, Canada, had been hammered by a heavy snowstorm. The power was out in her community, but she was feeling sorry for the people of Toronto who live in an urban area and may not have the same kind of survival skills as people who live in a rural area. She said that it snows a lot in New Brunswick.

I told her that we received a dusting of snow on Christmas Eve, and added that we had been getting rain more recently, but we have more snow and cold weather on the way. She said that she left her home in Lerona 50 year ago, and added that she is now 73.

Although she has been away from home for many years, she still likes to check on her home area. She understood about the challenges that newspapers are facing these days in a world where the proliferation of instantaneous social media has become ubiquitous in modern life. However, she wanted to talk with someone about charges and such. I wasn’t that someone, but I aimed her in the direction of someone who could help her.

However, I was someone who knows a little bit about Lerona, and apparently, during a New Brunswick snowstorm, I was a pretty OK person to talk to. I mentioned a few names of people I know in the Lerona area, but she didn’t know them. However, when I mentioned that I had visited Jordan’s Chapel Church in True and had written about homecomings there as well as the annual Christmas program, she knew what I was talking about.

Margie had attended one of the homecoming events at Jordan’s Chapel and enjoyed visiting with people she knew. She didn’t appear to have any regrets about her life in New Brunswick, except she admitted that the excessive amounts of snow weren’t to her liking. Still, she was satisfied with her life.

I told her that during the years I spent as a tractor-trailer driver, I used to haul steel through southern Ontario Province by crossing the Windsor Bridge in Detroit and re-entering the U.S. at Lackawana, N.Y., outside of Buffalo. She asked who I was and when I told her, she said she recognized my name from some of my stories that she had read in the newspaper. We chatted a while longer, and she said she would call the circulation office during the regular work week.

She said that she knew me more from the sound of my voice than from the ones of my stories that she had read. I think both of us enjoyed the phone conversation and we parted as friends.

As a student of the history of the printed page, I know that when Johannes Gutenberg perfected the use of movable type in the mid-1400s, the information revolution that followed changed the world. There weren’t many books around prior to Gutenberg, but when the mechanics of the printing process enabled presses to pump out volumes of information, the world’s database expanded exponentially.

I once worked with a fellow who said that someone could tell if a printed page is in registration if they squinted when they looked at it. Of course, I’ve always been of a mind that in order to see something more clearly, you have to look at it with your eyes wide open. That said, I think there is a way to mentally concentrate on something to make it easier to understand even the most complex issues.

When I say that movable type led to an information age that changed the world, it’s because I understand that when Columbus arrived in the West Indies in 1492, it was the rapid spread of the information of his voyages that led to an even greater proliferation of global exploration. In short, Leif Eriksson didn’t discover North America at a time when movable type and the printing press were available. Columbus had better spin doctors.

The world is still riding a wave of technology that has been fueled by the access to information on the Internet. It’s an exciting time, but I still think it’s exciting for me when Sue Stamper pitches my morning newspaper on my front porch. While new ways to receive information will continue to emerge from day to day, I hope that new generations will still find time to enjoy a morning newspaper every day in the comfort of their homes. I know I do.

Bill Archer is senior editor at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at barcher@bdtonline.com.

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