The county prosecutor, an intractable fellow named Stan, kept busy in the early 1970s bringing tokers to justice. Les Mieserables’ bloodhound police inspector Javet had nothing on this guy.
Not that he was mean-spirited; we eventually became friends. He died a few years back; my wife still hates him. Stan got on her bad side the time he called me at the newspaper office, and, in a voice hissing with emotion, said, “You are a snake in the grass.”
I looked the phrase up in my handy dictionary: a person who is “treacherous or deceitful.” I expect, eventually, to see the phrase bantered about on Twitter by the nation’s ultimate insulter.
The list of malefactors filled several columns of the newspaper daily. Not only were their names printed, but also their ages, where they lived, who their parents were, and what they ate for breakfast.
Readers loved it. We all delight in talking about other people; reveling in their miseries; and shaking our heads in disapproval. It is built into our genes.
My editor, Ralph, had no use for people who used marijuana; rejoiced as he lit up one of his ever-present cigarettes. The funeral homes loved him.
He heaped praise on Stan’s crackdown on tokers. Ralph hated hippies – all that long hair, in particular. He also hated Yasser Arafat, had no use for preachers, and loved to play poker with the boys at the local American Legion.
Stan made a big mistake when he threw Ralph in jail overnight after the police had interrupted a poker game. The next morning Ralph went into the publisher’s office and volunteered his resignation. It was refused.
Collecting long lists of marijuana arrests, however, did not equal the output of traffic tickets. They usually amounted to around 30 a day, and were of great interest to the women of the community.
Women – and this may sound sexist (but, what the heck) – hate for people to know their age. I personally knew a 94-year-old woman who claimed she was 60. Women did, however, take a deep interest in how old “other” women were.
But, they were mortified when they received a ticket, and their age appeared in the newspaper. We received a barrage of calls daily from angry women. Profanity was not lacking.
Eventually, we stopped running traffic tickets. The practice under the hand of a large newspaper chain, which took over the late 1970s, ended it. Stuff like traffic tickets, misdemeanor arrests and a multitude of things not deemed newsworthy were dropped.
But, it went further than that. All the little things of interest to people were swept away in the name of progress. Theories, studies and ideas came from the top of the chain; from people who sat in big corporate offices.
If you want packaged, local news that really interests people in small towns, you get at the heart of a community, embrace all the little things. The big newspapers cannot match it.
This newspaper is organized and built around the community; it consolidates all these things in one package. Facebook cannot do it; indeed, it has no interest in doing it.
Most people do not attended city council, school board, county board, or the myriad of other public entities that affect our lives. It is right here.