The American newspaper has been an institution, as essential to democracy and daily life as schools, police departments, business organizations and churches. They had authority. They led. They covered everything from political leaders, to colorful characters, to perpetually striving arts — everything we needed to understand, sustain and enrich our lives.
The folded black-and-white publication has been a photographic and written record of the life we held in our hands. The paper gave us community. It told us who we were.
The Daily Miracle is C. Fraser Smith’s memoir of a life spent “newspapering;” a personal chronicle of the daily re-birthing of three great American newspapers. His book is a decades-long coming of age tale from obituary-writing days at the Jersey Journal to his Sunday column at H.L. Menken’s papers, The Sun and Evening Suns — renamed “Sunpapers” by readers asserting their ownership. In Jersey City, it was The Jersey (or Joisey.) In Providence, the Pro-Jo. We re-Readers took ownership. Our Jersey. Our Pro-Jo. Our Sunpapers. Other cities and towns did the same.
The net stole it all, even its language conveying a story’s importance — “above-the-fold,” “puff job” and “scoop.” Change happens. The physical newspaper and the business model are dying. Some local or regional papers may survive, but most of the country lives now in a wasteland of dead or dying or ghost papers, papers so shorn of space and staff as to be barely worthy of their iconic names.
The Daily Miracle is an account of what we had and what we are losing. Our paper was more than a product. We knew that. It laid out the democracy’s daily to-do list. Where will we find that in the future?
Who will stand behind the junkman losing his property to urban renewal? Who will report on movements that threaten the status quo? Who will inveigh against efforts to deny voting rights? Who will find the soul and texture of life, and tell of the off-beat, eccentric geniuses of our world? Who will train and discipline newcomers? Who will demand and nurture good judgment, perspective and devotion to craft?
Smith’s career began with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, who held skilled writing and honest reporting in high regard. President Donald Trump, calls reporters “enemies of the people.”
They are not. They are the people.