Wednesday, October 15

Now Hear This

I did a little reading on the radio this morning . . . sort of.

I've volunteered to read news stories for the blind as part of the "Pell Radio Reading Service," a not-for-profit arm of the local Association for the Blind. Every day volunteers clip the local newspaper and read it aloud for the visually impaired.

The audience is really almost miniscule: just 400-or-so local residents equipped with special radios. You see, the signal is carried as a sub-frequency of the local public radio affiliate. So who knows how many are actually tuned in.

I bring this up because this morning--my first behind the mic--was a real eye-opener.

My more-experienced partner and I took two copies of the morning paper and clipped just about every story. I took the even-numbered pages, he took the odd (the "jump" pages proved a special problem). Then we stacked them into a rough running order and took turns reading them: two hours worth of back-and-forth, with two two-minute breaks and one ten-minute break. And it's hard work! Those narrow newspaper columns with all those hyphens make it difficult to get into any kind of read-ahead-rhythm. Try it sometime!

But I was struck by the fact that over the years newspapers have adapted to the changing times by writing more and more like television! The copy I saw had short, crisp sentences. They were still written, roughly, in "inverted pyramid" form, with the good stuff close to the top. But the idea that the five "W"s and the "H" had to be in the first sentence has gone by the wayside.

And the stories were short: many TV length.

It also turns out Walter Cronkite was right years and years ago when he said that all the copy in a half-hour TV newscast wouldn't fill three columns in a newspaper. I guess I knew that, but I didn't know it until this morning!

And the topic we devoted the most time to, and took the most care with? Obituaries. For a shut-in audience, the obits are important. Attention must be paid, so we paid attention to the lives and the passing of the big and small in our local communities.

I guess it's not like delivering late-breaking news on a 50-thousand-watt clear-channel AM powerhouse, reaching 10 or 12 states each night: but I performed a service this morning, I feel good about it, and it made me feel OK about the news business. I haven't for a long time now.

It was what it was--a simple, pure, straight-forward news delivery system. Go tell that to your demographics!