One of my part-time reporters, Sarah Cooper, spent the last 10 days or so in England, and another part-timer, Cortney Maddock, is applying to study in a journalism program in Germany later this year. Finally, The Roommate left on Monday to study for a month in India. We’re well on our way to becoming a global news force. Watch out, CNN!
When we newspaper nerds travel, one of our endearing quirks is that wherever we go we have to at least stop and peruse the local rag. More than likely we’ll buy a copy of each of the various local publications, take it back to the room and look through it while our traveling companions roll their eyes and pretend not to know us. Of course, those newspapers will get stuffed into a suitcase and brought home for further inspection once the vacation is over.
Probably my favorite non-local newspaper is the Trinity Journal, a weekly paper from Trinity County in Northern California, where The Roommate and I vacationed together several times a year when we were married. Trinity is the least populous county in the state and is the only county in the Golden State with no traffic signals. I have neither the time nor the gumption to verify those last two facts, but that’s what we heard and we’re sticking by them. If you were ever to visit there, you’d know they’re probably true.
A couple of years ago we got a mail subscription to the Trinity Journal, so a pipin’ hot copy arrives in our box each week. I can’t say I gobble up each and every word, but I scan through articles about county budget shortfalls, local school kids, etc. In many ways it bears a resemblance to the type of community news we feature here in the Tribune, so I pay special attention to the topics to see if I can borrow any ideas that we can localize. One item that I would love to publish and that is the highlight of each week’s issue of the Trinity Journal is the sheriff’s blotter. Some of the calls they get, well, a Hollywood screen writer couldn’t script the redneck ridiculousness any better: “A woman called to report that someone was in her house with a chainsaw. Officers discover her husband was asleep and snoring in the next room.” “Officers stop a man who appears to be intoxicated walking naked along the highway with his dog. The dog is also intoxicated.” “Three teens who just graduated high school are reported yelling obscenities toward the school building. They are admonished.” I think the sheriff’s deputies there don’t actually carry guns. They just pack their holsters with admonishments and walk around firing them at people. You’ll find many law enforcement admonishments in the blotter each week.
Those are fictional examples, since I can’t find a copy at the moment, but I do not exaggerate. These types of things happen in the rolling hills of small-town Northern California logging country.
Whether it’s a newspaper from the next county or the next continent, there is a lot to be learned from it. It’s interesting to read the little news, perhaps some city government wrongdoing or an interesting crime that wasn’t big enough for the national press but is getting blow-by-blow coverage locally because everybody in the area knew the defendant. Such newspapers can also show out-of-towners that their problems are not unique, that folks the world over care about the economy and gas prices and crime. However seeing it in a foreign newspaper (read: any newspaper other than the one in my town) makes news about foreclosures or unemployment seem fresh and different, even though it’s the same story told from another person’s perspective.
From a professional standpoint, it’s also interesting to see how different journalists do their jobs. In reading other American newspapers, it’s usually a matter of just reading the different writing and reporting styles. When it comes to overseas papers, that’s where you see the real differences. We get to see not only how people in other countries live and what they want to read, but in some cases we get to see how they view Americans.
Upon her return from England, Sarah brought a copy of The Times to share with the newsroom. I immediately dug into it, starting with the cover story about President Bush. The story was derived from an exclusive interview with British reporters in which Bush expressed some regret over the cowboy rhetoric and attitude he displayed during his tenure. The article jumped to the inside of the issue, where the headline read, “Hawk who took the world to war flies to Europe talking the language of a dove.” It’s a view of President Bush that would probably never be seen in American media. I’m not sure if the nature of the article was the result of a less friendly British press or an effort by the president’s spin machine to show a softer side of Bush to a hostile European readership. But in either case it is an interesting contrast to what we read in the New York Times or see on our own TV news.
Beyond politics, though, this issue of The Times featured articles on battling breast cancer, how to save money at the gas pump (I heard this week that fuel prices there were at the U.S. equivalent of $7 per gallon), interrogation of terror suspects and, of course, a healthy dose of celebrity, sports and entertainment news. In many ways, it was not much different than a major metropolitan daily you’d see in this country. Granted, thinking of the history of this country it’s not too surprising that our cultures and, hence, our newspapers would have parallel evolutions.
Then I looked at it from the point of view of a newspaper editor and I started to pick up on some fun differences. The first thing I noticed was that in some places The Times placed commas and periods outside quotation marks and in other places they punctuation was inside the quotes. I pointed it out to others in the newsroom and we were quite proud of the fact that we have found a mistake in this historic newspaper. If I’m reading the issue number in the masthead correctly, The Times had put out 69 issue, 347 copies as of Wednesday, so you’d think the editors could figure out how to use punctuation!
Alas, upon further inspection I realized there is a method to their British madness: It seems they put the punctuation outside the quotation marks after a partial quote and the punctuation goes inside when a quote is used in its entirety. I guess if I were to go over there to work, the editors there would have a good laugh at me for putting all my commas and periods inside the quotes. I’d blame the shoddy American school system.
A few final fun differences: Realize is spelled with an ‘s’ not a ‘z’; political coverage reads like an American history textbook, talking about the Tories and the Labour Party (that’s translated to “labor” in English) and people like Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington; and often people are referred to as Mr This or Lady That. It’s not a typo, folks, the abbreviation for “mister” in The Times does not have a period after it. I triple-checked. Oh, and after a while the narrator in my head started reading the paper in a British accent.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for tea.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.