THROUGH THE FIRE: The Pleasure of Newspapers

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By SHARON YAMATO
(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on February 17, 2011.)

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Call me old- fashioned, but there’s something wonderful about waking up each day to the morning newspaper. In this age where news is delivered on TV and the worldwide web almost before it happens, I still depend on that bundle of newsprint to start off my day. My morning routine is to turn on the coffee, feed the dog, and then head outside to pick up the L.A. Times, first to peruse the front page, then turn to sports to see if my teams won, followed by a leisurely look at what’s happening in the calendar and business sections. Last but not least, I top it off with my favorite comics.

Depending on how much time I have, I can spend minutes or hours reading every page, and I always feel more informed the more time I have. Whether it’s the ability to turn the pages manually, the comprehensive coverage in one place, or just the feel of that grimy newsprint — it just can’t be duplicated by moving a mouse.

I saw it recently expressed in a cartoon by George Booth (who does those great New Yorker dog cartoons). There’s a dog eagerly holding the newspaper in his mouth to deliver to his owner standing before him with a smile on his face, and a caption that reads, “We like print, don’t we?”

I noticed how much I depended on newspapers when I recently spent a few weeks away from home. I discovered there was no way to find out what time my teams were playing that day, what trouble Doonesbury was getting into, or what movies were opening in L.A., without first turning on the computer and then googling (searching) forever. Somehow, it just wasn’t the same as holding that information in my hands.  Even worse, I oftentimes couldn’t even find what I was looking for.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Internet, and would even go so far to say that I’m not sure what we did without it. There are up-to-the-minute communiqués that are impossible to duplicate by the slow process of delivering news via the printed media. And there is a personalized, one-on-one aspect to it.

For example, I was recently stranded on the subway in New York when Trains 1, 2 and 3 were suddenly closed down for some inexplicable reason. I was later told by seasoned New Yorkers that although the subway system was unreliable, rarely did a closure of this magnitude occur. Getting to where I was going in the time I had estimated was now impossible, but worse still, I couldn’t do it without navigation assistance definitely not being provided by gruff subway attendants.

Much to my delight, a fellow passenger (who turned out to be a Columbia University English professor) recognized my consternation and came to my aid. This generous and amiable young woman virtually led me by the hand from one subway station to another to get to 110th Street, where she also happened to be going.

When I left that evening to come back to L.A. — a mere eight hours later — a blog had already been posted by her. Not only did she explain why the subway was shut down (“breaking” news and information that I didn’t hear on the L.A. airwaves until two days later on ABC’s “Good Morning America”), but she recorded our meeting in heartwarming detail.  Because it was so delightfully concise (and offers an opportunity for shameless self-promotion), I would like to quote an excerpt: “We fell into conversation and it turned into one of those truly lovely interactions with a stranger, where you can’t believe quite how much it is like talking to someone you know very well already … It turned out that she had been in town for the Athena Film Festival to screen her documentary ‘Out of Infamy: Michi Nishiura Weglyn.’ As we parted, she generously gave me a copy, and I have just watched it; it is a fascinating story, quite beautifully made, about the Japanese American costume designer who left her job in order to write one of the first books exposing the true history of America’s internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. In short, the day brought me something genuinely beautiful,  important and altogether unexpected.”  (jennydavidson.blogspot.com)

Her blog accomplished several things: not only did I get all the information about the subway incident in record speed, I also got to relive the serendipity of our touching encounter, and most importantly, I got to spread the word about Michi Weglyn to a whole new web audience.

But to get back to my original point about the value of newspapers — three back copies of The Rafu Shimpo had fortunately arrived in my mailbox while I was gone. Here was valuable stuff that I could get nowhere else, like information about the very first Fred Korematsu Day, an interview with Paul Kikuchi for the premiere of his new play, “Wrinkles,” and a glowing tribute to one of my all-time favorite JA writers, Hisaye Yamamoto.

As I slowly turned the pages of the English section, I realized how much the Rafu’s editorial content had continued to improve over the years, and how much I would miss it should it ever be forced to close. Even though George Toshio Johnston’s Nikkei Nation (www.NikkeiNation.com) is starting to fill a local and national void with his online news, and editor Shige Higashi informatively shares what’s happening in Southern California’s Japanese community with his Cultural News Email Daily (www.culturalnews.com), what I have come to realize is that there is definitely room for both, just as there are still reasons to use email and the telephone.

It’s all about staying connected to our own JA community and the bigger world around us, and isn’t it good to find as many ways to do it as we can?  For in these high tech times, there’s still a very old notion, to quote John Donne, “No man is an island. . . .”

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Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey and can be reached at [email protected] expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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