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Randomly speaking (08/09/2009)
By Janet Lewis Burns

I would venture to guess that the average U.S. Citizen (if such an animal exists) spends more time shopping and wandering aimlessly through the malls of America than he, she, (or whoever) spends reading.

Recommended reading material doesn’t consist of “directions for assembly,” dinner specials posted on chalkboards at the local cafe, lists of garage sale items, and those trashy gossip magazines featuring misleading, paparazzi cheap shots the world rushes to devour. Minds today are programmed for the quick and easy. Reading a novel takes more of our time, however, and our thoughtful concentration. One might even learn something.

I’m one of those others. I settle into a promising book and usually while away hours of satisfaction, if not enlightenment. A recent favorite is a collection of short, witty, and thought provoking essays on random subjects, written by Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Anna Quindlen. “Loud & Clear” is an inspiration for columnists who are printed by newspapers in the hopes that we might actually arouse some interest.

The most passionate defenders won’t allow themselves to envision life without the newspaper industry. In denial, anyone in the newspaper business has held firm to their sincere belief that their efforts and dedication to getting the news out in print is an invaluable asset to society as a whole.

Isn’t it?

The question is, will journalists, opinion letters, and columns succeed in keeping the man and woman on the go interested in picking up and reading their daily news? What else would they do while they slug down mugs of their morning gourmet coffee? Newspaper reporters and writers are held accountable for their accuracy. Soon to be 40 years young, how accurate is the information punched into the Internet?

For local news as it’s happening the newspaper reporter is there, to cover a pivotal town meeting, a human interest story, school sports events, and a drug bust hot off the press. News has been craved and enhanced since the late1500s, after the invention of Gutenberg’s movable type became widely used. The era of literacy took off, expanding the market for all publishers. This is one business with limited competition due to the fact that it’s extremely expensive to set up and operate a printing press.

Quindlen writes in reference to 9/11, in her chapter “Everything Is Under Control,” “They’ve had a new expression over the past year, the kids. It’s random. Mom, that remark is so random.” She goes on to say, “Everything seems random now, the illusion of an ordered universe gone, each airplane on the approach to Newark Airpark seems sinister, each siren a harbinger of doom. People cry on the subway; someone passes a tissue.”

Finishing her chapter, she muses, “In almost every New York City store window, there is a flier for a benefit, a relief effort, a fund.” “And as people pick them up you can almost hear them saying to themselves, yes, yes, I can do something.” “Things are under control. That’s the lie we tell ourselves.”

To emphasize her feeling that airport security was a mess following 9/11, Quindlen shared her experience. As she was pulled out of line, patted down, and wanded at two major airports in eight hours time, she was told that the computer randomly picked her, a typical frequent business flier.

She surmised, “But the best guess is that I was snagged randomly because the airlines are terrified of being accused of profiling, and paying special attention to people who are not at the faintest risk as a security threat is one way to defuse that charge.”

“Somewhere there must be middle ground between random screening, which is useless, and screening that targets only ethnicity and race, which is offensive,” she adds.

There will always be crime, threats by terrorists, random profiling by people of authority, and families grieving the tragic loss of loved ones. Hunger to read random news is as ravenous as the need to write about it. Incidental names in obituary notices, details of heinous crimes, and the latest scandal will always sell newspapers…randomly speaking.

Janet Burns lives in Lewiston. She can be reached a patandjanburns@embarqmail.com. 


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