I recently returned from two months in Sarasota, where I spent most of my time at the swimming pool, chatting with other oldtimers, most of whom know that I'm a retired journalist. To hear them tell it journalism as we know it is heading for a final crisis and within a week or so our only means of communication will be to TWEET, the illiterate equivalent of Cato's orations.
I beg to differ. I don't think we're quite ready to give up on smearing our fingers on ink-laden newsprint. Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I'm absolutely flabbergasted at the fine quality of two local stories I read upon my return to Wisconsin last month, stories that make me optimistic about the survival of old-fashioned journalism.
The first appeared in a weekly magazine, admittedly a competitor of the River Falls Journal. I read it every week and always look forward to my favorite writers in the publication. One of them is Alvin Paulson, of Clear Lake, whose work often appears in a series called "Yarns of Yesteryear."
Alvin is about 90 years old, a retired farmer who is more well acquainted with teats than with tweets. Ninety doesn't stop him because Alvin has a memory like a steel trap and he brings that attribute to his stories whether they are about the hayloft on the family farm or about attending grade school at South Clayton School District No. 7 back in 1935.
Alvin nailed his experience zero to the bone, as Emily Dickinson might say, from the cloak room in one hall to the book storage room on the other, where the teacher could give you a good talking to if you needed it. Alvin was a first grader and everyone in the next rows "looked so big, and so old."
He wasn't perfect and almost biked over his teacher on her way back from the outhouse. "Good thing," Alvin recalled, "she had already finished at the outhouse."
I must confess, a tear came to my aged eyelids when I remembered my first day at Larkin Valley School District, back in 1942.
So what's so important about Alvin's story? It's important because it connects countless readers to their own pasts, provides a history that couldn't be captured in a mere tweet, so fondly used by our current president. It also encourages communal cohesion. I don't know Alvin from Adam, but I sure would like to.
The next fills the same bill and it wasn't by an old guy writing for other old people. This one was written by a member of the River Falls Journal staff, Mike Longaecker. This is another story that pulled at my heartstrings.
"Remembering the Gentle Giant of River Falls" was about the late Francis Johnson, the big guy with the bicycle. He was my friend from my first days in River Falls. He was everybody's friend.
Francis would corner me picking up the Sunday paper at Holiday, comment on a recent column I had penned or one by someone in the Atlantic Monthly, a magazine he frequently read when he wasn't working at Chartwells or having a beer at Bo's N' Mine, where his big paw obscured the presence of a 16-ounce schooner of beer, according to Bo's bar manager Joe Colberg.
So how do you tweet a story like Francis Johnson eating breakfast at the South Fork Cafe or dwarfing his Trek bicycle as he pedaled down Second Street, crouched low and intent on his destination?
That's my point folks.
Mike Longaecker didn't have to tweet. ("F J rode to glory on Trekbike. Very sad!) Mike worked for a newspaper, our newspaper, and he was given the time and had the talent to interview scores of Johnson's friends and neighbors, to remind us all that River Falls is a caring community.
A community that appreciated Francis, "this knight riding through the land doing good deeds ... though not necessarily in shining armor" in the words of geology professor Bill Cordua.
Long live the Fourth Estate!
Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426 9554.