Anniversary stories and today's news

Anniversary stories and today's news

Nineteen years ago today, on Sept. 11, 2001, I had been working as a newspaper copy editor for a month. We were going to put out the first edition of a new paper, the New Trier Times, because the one we already had, the Evanston Express, also came out on Tuesdays. When I hear the expression “famous last words,” I think of the meeting when we settled on when to start the Times. Tuesdays, so just one day was deadline day, and after Labor Day. Nothing big ever happens after Labor Day.

Now, when “nothing big happens,” I’m accustomed to recognizing the habit I saw at the papers and before that, when I was editing news releases for a wire service that also had reporters covering stories. When things got quiet, the city editor would tell people to get out the morgue (i.e., library) files and look for anniversaries. Anniversary stories filled in the space and time when nothing new went on.

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Similarly, if what you do is tell stories and nothing is happening at the time, you go back to what used to happen. What happened on “this day in history?” (OK, silly question today — but I grew up hearing older people fill in the quiet before Thanksgiving and my birthday with stories about Nov. 22-25, 1963. That’s part of how I learned the importance of storytelling.)

I remember that my father would get angry when some Dec. 7s passed without very many anniversary stories about 1941. “A date which will live in infamy” — which, as far as I’m concerned, has company now — needed to be remembered every year, even after decades. Every five- and ten-year mark brought new stories about Pearl Harbor, which didn’t exactly please Dad, but certainly seemed like what the news should be covering that day. The date just didn’t turn back into an ordinary day, and for me, I don’t think it ever will.

Yesterday’s news — the Bob Woodward tapes and the debate about how soon he should have told about them, the progress (or not) in the search for a virus vaccine, the search for economic and social justice — is all on hold today in a similar way that such stories can wait on Dec. 7 or Nov. 22. The ceremonies may get more attention in the media because they can’t get attendance directly — restrictions and social distancing must keep people apart. The differences in the ceremonies will make them newsworthy in the way that other odd-number anniversaries may not be. Those differences should bring up the stories to go along with any new revelations about the tapes, the vaccine, and present-day life.

Sometimes anniversary stories need telling even when the present day’s news won’t stop to give them much room.


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  • 1. What were those newspapers? A bunch of hyperlocal publications that either never were in or or now out of business?I remember one such publication in which some 19 year old was telling us what our community's values were, and falsely claimed that postal regulations required that I provide personal information to continue receiving it. Of course, the idea of a paper paper and postal delivery are now ridiculous.

    2. According to George H. W. Bush, Pearl Harbor was Sept. 7.

    3. If it bleeds, it still leads, with the network news leading with the western U.S. wildfires.* The unusual thing in yesterday's news was Pence and Biden knocking elbows at Ground Zero.

    *I lived somewhere where the weekend news "the most complete film report" (long after Chicago was using microwave trucks) was invariably fires. Of course, there is something else more urgent happening there now (the Daniel Prude protests).

  • The paper which I was hired to edit was the Evanston Express; the paper which debuted on Sept. 11,, 2001, was the New Trier Times. They were disbanded by the publisher in 2003 due to low ad sales, so yes, they are now out of business. I don't see what that has to do with my point, but there are your answers. As for your second point, I'm sure you've misspoken on occasion when you're upset, and I have seen video today of the elder Mr. Bush referring to the attacks on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7.
    As for your third point, the news is meant to be the unusual things.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    1. Only asked because I never heard of them. They sounded like 22nd Century Media (to which my reference applied), but were dead long before 22nd was, and apparently for the same reason.
    3. When you put it that way, a fire every weekend is not unusual. In Chicago, a mass shooting every weekend, and in California a wildfire every summer aren't either. The question is what is important.

  • In reply to jack:

    No offense taken; they were very local.

    At this point, yes, the lack of shootings and fires would be bigger news because they have ended. But, again agreeing with you, the shootings and fires are important, and we need to know their progress (or lack of it), just as we need to know the progress of both the virus and the fight against it.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    On the progress of the virus, the story went from 2 people in the hospital to a slide almost every day "today IDPH reported 2100 [some] new cases and [about] 24 new deaths." While important, no longer having much impact, as being statistics rather than individuals.Similarly, we have enough idiot governors saying "How could [Tulsa/Sturgis] cause a surge when Home Depot doesn't?"

  • In reply to jack:

    Agreed, but I keep thinking of the diplomats taken hostage in Iran in 1979, who quickly became "the hostages" in shorthand and weren't referred to as diplomats very often. That's when "Nightline" began as a program called "America Held Hostage" -- and at least one national broadcaster ended the nightly news (in that pre-CNN era) with a tally of "what day it was" of the crisis. We did not see the end of that coming, but what a joy it was. I'll take figures now until they can be replaced.

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