Fun Friday: A Newspaper of One’s Own Edition

It’s been busy here in One-Way Street land. I spent a blazing hot Memorial Day weekend (Fourth of July on Memorial Day, as a weatherman someplace said) camping with the family–we made it through one of two planned nights. That blast of summer was followed by a forty-degree plunge in temperature, capped off with a miserable walk across the Loop this morning in a driving rain. I did manage to pause at Wolf Point long enough to wonder, again, how the Kennedys are going to cram three buildings into that site

These past few weeks I’ve been on the front lines of the monetization of content struggle faced by virtually every media outlet on the Web. But I have been keeping an eye out for interesting articles that are worth reading more in depth.

First up this week is an interview with Paul Gyford, the man behind Samuel Pepys blog and Twitter feed. Pepys was a high-ranking government official in London who started keeping a diary in 1660 to record his recovery from intestinal surgery (without anesthetic). He recorded every event big and small until 1669, when he feared he was going blind. He saw some big events: the restoration of King Charles II, both a Great Plague and a Great Fire, along with several hurricanes of spousal fury (he would follow a pretty ankle pretty much anywhere). His approach to government administration and prose style were both modern: efficient and honest. English literature during the 1660s was especially lively and witty, and Pepys’ diary is one of the most important literary artifacts from the period–and among the most enjoyable to read.

Another lively chronicler is Gail Collins, the New York Times columnist. Her droll humor seems very Atlantic corridor, but she’s coming out with a book-length study of how the Texas approach to conservation and energy policies (basically, turn them over to a guy named “Smokey” to eviscerate them) went national. Collins recounts the time when the nation awaited the output from Dick Cheney’s infamous National Energy Policy Development Group.

“We’ll have a strong conservation statement,” the president promised as the world awaited the Cheney energy policy’s arrival. Later that day, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was also asked whether Bush would be calling on Americans to use less energy, and took the opportunity to clarify his boss’s statement a tad. “That’s a big no,” Fleischer said. “The president believes that it’s an American way of life, that it should be the goal of policymakers to protect the American way of life. The American way of life is a blessed one.” God, it seemed, smiled upon the Hummers in his flock. He looked upon the empty room with a burning lightbulb and found it good.

The on-again-off-again New City Reader project is back on. Architectural theorist Kazys Varnelis has decided not only to revive the printed newspaper, but also the old tradition of tacking up an issue on a wall in public space so that anyone can ready it. Varnelis and his team discovered that posting newspapers on a public building in New York City required cost-prohibitive permits. The wooden barriers around construction sites seemed promising until they were threatened by mobsters protecting construction workers, who you would think could protect themselves. Anyway, Varnelis remains committed to supporting the print edition of newspapers as a political object:

Newspapers [. . ] identify you. Reading one telegraphs the political implications of reading in space. When an adult opens one at the breakfast table, it signifies to children that news is important, something one attends to as a citizen. Reading a newspaper is not reading one’s e-mail for pleasure or profit. It is an engagement with the news, a declaration of interest in public matters. It is hardly an accident that reading has universally been a precondition of the right to vote, and that mass democracy could only take hold after mass literacy. Reading a newspaper in public, or even carrying it in public identifies you as a member of a community, often betraying your political affiliation and even, in the case of papers addressing a diaspora, your ethnicity. Newspapers are not just a public matter, common to all, they are a matter of diverse publics, joined by the common experience of reading the paper, an experience reinforced by the appearance of papers in the public realm. Reading a newspaper in public is a provocation, a call to action, to at least bury one’s nose in a newspaper of one’s own.

That’s all from me this week. I’m about to hop on a train, where I will read a newspaper, via a paid subscription, on an iPad.

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