Things then and now, part II

Yesterday I wrote about a short newspaper article from March 31, 1949.  While I was looking at it, I also took a moment to read the surrounding articles.  The article itself was actually reprinted as part of the "From Our Early Files" section, and one of a dozen short pieces from 10, 20, 35, 50, and 70 years ago.  The context here is useful for what I'm about to say: small town newspaper from March 31, 1959, with articles quoted back as far as 1884.

A few months ago, David Eaves wrote that the best way to understand Twitter was to think of it like a newspaper vs. email.  I know exactly what he means, and have been interested to see how often I've been referred to his post via blogs, twitter, irc, etc. when people are looking for a shorthand way to say, "see, this is what it is."  However, some people I know who are (or have been) deeply invested in the contemporary newspaper, have commented to me that this metaphor doesn't work.  I think part of the issue here is that the contemporary newspaper is so unlike the newspaper of the past.  In particular, it has disconnected itself from the local.  It has become what is worth printing instead of what is news, where the arbiter of worth is the national or international news desk.  I would also argue that it is this move from covering here to there, that has killed the newspaper: when there becomes what we all discuss, there's no reason to get that from someone here.

I think Twitter is like the newspaper as it was before they were all bought-up by the same handful of media corporations.  What follows is anecdotal evidence to prove my point--where the anecdote is necessarily at the heart of the what is important to the community.  Allow me to read you some of what was newsworthy from 1959 to 1884:

1949:

  • Rev. W. E. Aldworth of St. Marys has accepted a call to become the minster of St Pauls United Church.
  • R. A. (Dick) Norman, by a recent appointment of the Tillsonburg Shoe Company, has been named office manager of the plant.
    1939:

  • Arrangements are being made to arrange transportation for the boys and girls of Tillsonburg and district to London on Wednesday June 7 to see the royal procession on the occasion of the visit of the King and Queen

  • Alexander Halbert has been appointed chief of police for Tillsonburg at a special meeting of the council on Friday
    1924:

  • E. J. Pinch has purchased a vacant lot on Pine Street.

  • S.E. Barret has sold his house and lot on Bidwell Street to Wilbur Prouse
    1909:

  • H.G. Coomber has sold the Delmar Sunday school a beautiful Gerhard Heintzman piano which he has placed in their schoolroom this week.

  • Theo Young is have a veranda erected at the front and south side of his house on King Street, which will improve its appearance very much.
    1884:

  • Tillsonburg Agricultural Implement Manufacturing Co. has commenced work for the season and their shops present a busy scene.  They have begun the season's work with about 30 hands.  John McIntyre is manger.
    I love this.  Can you imagine anyone caring about a new piano being purchased, a veranda being built, someone buying a vacant lot, the name of a new manager or chief of police?  It's not worth the paper its printed on, irrelevant, and only of interest to a small community of people.  And that's exactly the point.  Who cares that people got a new job, are going to an event, are redoing their basement, etc?  Well, when its happening within your community, its interesting to read.  I could turn any of the above into something you'd write on Twitter (first person vs. third) and the subject matter wouldn't cause anyone reading Twitter to think it out of place with all the other things being discussed on Twitter right now.  It's not that Twitter has created a new narcissistic space for people to write about trivial aspects of their lives, which no one else will find interesting or useful; it's that Twitter has tapped into the spirit of the local news, long ago killed by the need for here to be focused on there.  We're only able to be a community when we can share what's important to us.