Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Houston Rocket

A poet friend of mine told me some years ago, quite a while before I had anything to do with the Internet, that the CIA and other intelligence agencies simply loved the expanding technology because it made their work so easy. No more pounding the streets, wire-tapping, information pay-outs, and so on, simply because the growing habit of universal communication via computer enabled them to eavesdrop without ever leaving the office. And I think I've even had a little experience of technological surveillance myself, in spite of having nothing to do with anything such people would be interested in. I once used the word "San Francisco" in a telegram to Rome, and had a sense of being shadowed for an instant for doing so. I searched around for clues and learned that city is the headquarters of the American Sixth Army. Enough said.
So now, tapping in the working title of the hoped-for revival of a daily paper in Nelson, I have to stick my tongue in my cheek and wonder who will be searching my script for intentions threatening to the space and defense processes of my neighbour to the south.
Sorry, guys, to put you to work, but Nelson has historical rights to this name, dating from a time when that big bustling centre in Texas was little more than a market town, perhaps just getting into the oil business.
John Houston, originally from Ontario, was the first mayor of Nelson, and founded the Miner, the original ancestor of the Nelson Daily News. He was a feisty character, moving here and there with his portable printing press over the course of his adult life, starting up a hydro electric plant in Nelson and fighting with the Canadian Pacific Railway in Prince Rupert.I have no idea what a printing press cost in those days.
Certainly the only one I've ever been intimate with - and I knew it very well - was the hot lead machines at College Printers, on Tenth Avenue in Point Grey, where The Ubyssey found its way into print three times a week, could hardly be moved about at whim by a publisher busy shaking the dust off his sandals in political frustration, or heading off to fields of greener opportunities. In the heady days of the opening of West, it seems, a newspaper publisher moved as easily as a reporter, so I don't think his press was very expensive.
Now, the computer - much cheaper than a press - has both recreated and reversed the process. The publisher of a blog has a freedom to operate at will without moving at all, and in fact his information flies about the world at the click of a mouse.
This gives me opportunities and an audience John Houston could never have dreamed of. Yet, to be honest, to pay our dues to those who went before, it would seem to be wretched behaviour not to honour his original input, his ability to do the best with what he had, and perhaps above all, in this case, his distaste for bullies like the CPR in Prince Rupert. Moreover, there is also the incontrovertible fact that the journalist tradition he began in Nelson has served the community well for over a century, and with a little nudging here and there, has been of great use to the development of art and culture in the recent era.
But, given the number of writers in the area, was it ever really literate enough? I know as a certain fact that it was not, but then that is a problem of newspapers generally. I have been in a unique position to research this issue and have found all papers guilty, world wide, including, believe it or not, L'Osservatore Romano. The magazines have also drawn a significant blank. And, now through the Net, they are all undergoing a certain chastisement, although not all as severely, for the moment at least, as the Daily News.
Journalism, it has been said, is history on the run. That is a very valid title, and it is valid because journalism has its own Muse. I experienced it constantly when I  was a staffer on the Ubyssey, and it was also there in the offices of the Vancouver Sun, although the Sun somehow lacked some of the intellectual and poetic elements that actually dominated, I would say, the college paper. Working newspapermen are generally a little too fond of their worldly wisdom, like a good number of their advertisers.
In Nelson, as in most places, I would have to say this was rarely not a problem.
Will it be taken care of by any new Phoenix, or Rocket, that rises from the ashes?
Which takes me back to the topic sentence which has yet to see the light of day. Dan Nicholson, of the Valley Voice, tells me that a Web press costs only $150,000. In this town, beer money. What it could produce would be worth an enormously greater amount, especially in terms other than monetary.
But only if it conceived its role as being something other than a provider of information, and only if its publisher could see that genuine intelligence, even wisdom, was a better bottom line than a balance sheet. I respect the balance sheet, and always have, but I've never thought it an object worthy of worship. 

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