As I crumple up old El Defensor editions to start fires at night, out of respect I like to make sure it’s a paper I’ve read before I burn it. I know it’s silly and often inconvenient but that’s why my preference is to get bundles of the same issue, which saves time. I can’t imagine I’m completely alone in this strange habit, but I guess it’s possible. If you are one of our readers who reads every inch of the newspaper, you might have noticed a missing paragraph in the mayoral debate article last week. I’ll try to remember not to grab that edition for next year’s fires, so I don’t have to relive that mistake, which, by the way, I am sorry about, so I made sure the whole article is on our website. See the internet and print can be friends!
In our modern lives with the constant flow of information at our literal fingertips, it’s easy to take newspapers for granted especially compared to its cute younger replacement, the internet.
Did you know the first newspaper in United States wasn’t published until 1690? Though it didn’t resemble any newspaper you would find in the stands today, it was a game changer. Surprisingly the revolution of print in the 12th and 13th century was not received with joy, rather it brought up concerns and panic about how it would change society.
The dangers of reading were proclaimed early on, especially for people who were considered “vulnerable” to ideas and whims. If you wanted to raise eyebrows reading in private was considered especially dangerous for women. Not only were women and people of color largely eliminated from print, there was a deep-seated fear in regards to the consequences of them having access to printed material.
Once mass printing and newspapers came around, these moments of amnesia of those giving oral histories, news, and sermons that could easily been manipulated intentionally or unintentionally, could now be printed and hold the communicator accountable. People began to have access to information on their own accord without interference.
With print there was an opportunity to critique authority and printed items could be used for propaganda and indoctrination. Who would benefit from this newfound power and who would have access to information in print?
The big question was, would print bring people together or create distrust between them?
“O’Printing how thou hast disturbed the peace of mankind!” wrote English poet Andrew Marvell in 1672.
Substitute the word “print” for “the internet” in the last two sentences and we have ourselves a modern conversation.
From the beginning of print materials circulating grew an urge for censorship. Many institutions had a running list of prohibited books and publications. There was an urgency and fear that people would be exposed to “misinformation”, sound familiar?
There seems to be no rest in the future of this tug of war of information any time soon as newspapers and libraries continue the fight to give access to information.
Maybe newspapers can’t keep up with the speed of the internet, but unlike online news, what’s printed is printed and you can’t go back and edit it (even if it’s an honest mistake, like last week). While I’m up on my soapbox I’ll share with you exactly how I see it: The health of newspapers and libraries is a direct indicator of our society because both serve as pillars of democracy. Unlike fads that go out of style, print is irreplicable in its role in democracy. I just hope someone reads this before it turns to kindling.