To celebrate the publication of Beacons In The Darkness, we’ve polled Agate staff for some of their favorite memories involving their local newspapers.
David Schlesinger, Publishing Director
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Newspaper: The Oregonian
“During the week, I’d glance through the A section, skip the comics entirely, and head to Sports.
The box scores for all the previous day’s games were great, but the real joy would always be the game summaries and columns by our Portland Trailblazers beat reporter. That was the first experience I had of associating a specific byline with a specific perspective and of processing someone else’s written reaction, supposedly better informed, to an event that I had personally witnessed.
My other use for the paper was Friday’s Arts & Entertainment section. Time to find out what movies were coming out and when and where to see them! My waxing awareness of the city’s geography was based on the location of our movie theaters. And film reviews were my first exposure to criticism broadly and the work of a critic: trying to describe with tact and wit the noteworthy qualities about something that may be lost on a casual observer.”
Suzanne Sonnier, VP of Content Development
Hometown: Allentown, PA
Newspaper: Evening Chronicle/Morning Call
“In Allentown, PA in the 70s and 80s, we had two local newspapers to choose from. Our house received the Evening Chronicle because my dad liked his news as current as possible once he had time to look at it after work. Eventually we switched to the Morning Call when the Chronicle went out of business. According to my dad, the correct way to consume the news was to scan the front page and then read the comics. Being a very literal kid, I thought this was an actual rule for more years than I care to admit. In any case, I became a lifelong newspaper reader and now read it in any order I please! Which is, uh, usually the front page and then the comics.”
Doug Seibold, President
Hometown: Port Washington, NY
Newspaper: Newsday: The Long Island Newspaper
“My first job, age 9, was delivering Newsday on what I appreciate in retrospect was probably the world’s cushiest paper route—my block and the block immediately adjacent. I started reading the paper around then and immediately became a devoted Charles Schulz fan—not long after, I began amassing (collecting implies more sophistication than I was expressing at time) the mass market editions of collected “Peanuts” strips, which I would buy used mostly at garage sales. Some of the earliest stories I remember reading were about the infamous Fritz Peterson-Mike Kekich Yankees wife-swapping affair (still a mind-blower 50 years later), which I seem to remember Newsday covering as a week-long special series, and an in-depth feature on the nonagenarian P.G. Wodehouse, who spent his last years on the island, and which I didn’t really understand at all, since it was another decade before I read Wodehouse. Then the Julius Erving-led NY Nets began to ascend the following year, and the Mets went back to the World Series, and I’ve turned to the sports pages first every time I’ve opened any newspaper since.”
Amanda Gibson, Editorial Manager
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Newspaper: The Columbus Dispatch
“My parents had the Dispatch delivered every day of the week, but my strongest memories are of coming downstairs Saturday and Sunday mornings to find the weekend papers splayed across the kitchen table like puzzle pieces, some turned over and examined already, others untouched and waiting to be explored. With the then-unpleasant aroma of coffee in the air, I’d toast a bagel, pull out a chair, and join my parents around the pages, tossing sections aside until I found the comics, too young to understand or care what the local reporting that surrounded me could have told me about my community, focused only on the bright Sunday colors of FoxTrot and Sherman’s Lagoon—and the victory in beating my brother and sister to the table and the punchlines. The newspaper was a rare moment of congregation in my family, an introvert’s dream of passing the time quietly, but together.”
Diana Slickman, Director of Operations
Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri
Newspaper: The Kansas City Star and Times
“When I was a kid in the 1960s I was not much of a newspaper reader. Nevertheless, the daily paper was an important feature of my day. We had trained our dog to fetch the paper from the front sidewalk and twice a day it was my responsibility to hustle the dog to the front door, fling it open, and shout “Pepper! Get the paper!” Twice a day because the KC paper had two editions: the Star and the Times, aka the morning Star. Once retrieved, I had to try to pry it from his mouth before dog slobber penetrated too far into the paper. Newspapers came tied with string in a neat log of newsprint in my time and when the innovation of the plastic sleeve arrived it was hailed as great boon to consumers of the news.
As a teen my favorite section of the Star was the Sunday pull-out TV and radio guide for the coming week. It featured a two-page spread grid showing what was on any given channel at any given hour on any given day. In the back was a listing of all the movies airing that week with remarkably brief capsule plot descriptions. Casablanca, for example, might have been rendered as “Wartime lovers reunite at a cafe.” The economy of language and compression of narrative was admirable, and must have posed a challenge to the poor soul tasked with the job. I once got a glimpse behind the curtain at that person when I came across a listing for a movie called Kiss of the Tarantula which read, in its entirety, “The trick is finding the lips.”
In Beacons in the Darkness, award-winning journalist Dave Hoekstra interviews the people trying to keep the lights on at community newspapers across the country amid buyouts, declining revenues, fake news, and a pandemic. This book is not another account of the death of local journalism—but rather a celebration of the community ties, perseverance, and empathy that’s demonstrated in community newsrooms from Hillsboro, Illinois, to Charleston, South Carolina, to Marfa, Texas.
The book is available now from Bookshop, Amazon, or your favorite local bookseller.