The good ol’ days, my father liked to say, “were formerly known as ‘these trying times.’” We humans have a tendency to not enjoy the present until it’s past. I recalled Dad’s observation when a neighbor, John Wilson, and I were indulging in a nostalgic conversation about the “good ol’ days” of newspaper journalism.
John was an investigative reporter for the Seattle Times when I was an editor for the Associated Press in its Seattle bureau. We’d never met, but I admired and respected John’s reporting. I was dumfounded when I moved to Omak and discovered he was living here, a fellow refugee from the big, vexing city.
Our conversation about the decline of newspapers (twenty percent of the nation’s newspapers went out of business between 2004 and 2018) was prompted because John and his wife had been the victims of a violent crime. The story was not in that week’s local newspaper, much less the regional daily. The daily once vigorously covered news of our county but now, with a greatly reduced reporting staff, rarely looks in our direction.
Weekly papers are faring better than metropolitan dailies. More than twice as many papers in urban areas have stopped publishing as in rural communities. One reason might be that rural areas don’t always have good internet service. Social media, as everyone knows, has pulled advertising revenue from newspapers. Even if they manage to keep publishing, many have become ghosts of the vital information sources they once were.
John has long been retired, but he still can’t ignore an important story. Important not because it’s about him, but because we in the community need to know when bad stuff happens. We need to know when the police respond quickly and effectively. We need to know when emergency room services fall short.
Our local newspaper did ultimately report the incident, but John and his wife were not contacted. Sometimes victims don’t want to talk to the news media. John wrote an account of the event from his perspective and brought it to me to read. The most compelling part of his story is that the attack was utterly random. The attacker had no previous connection with the Wilsons. The victims could have been in any town, on any street, or even myself, a mere five doors away. I don’t care to live in fear, but it’s good to be reminded of my vulnerability so that I can take precautions, be more alert.
Besides the Wilsons’ injuries and damage to their home, another neighbor’s fence was extensively damaged. About a week later a men’s prayer group—with no direct connection to either family—showed up to repair the fence. Again, a random act, and a kind one. The group also brought gifts to the Wilsons and offered to do yard work, which was declined.
“That’s the way things used to be,” John commented. Yeah, the good ol’ days. They’re not entirely in the past.
You can read John’s story here.