For decades my mother ritually pulled out the Everett Herald sports page, folded it into squares, and inserted it neatly under the cat pan.
It was the family exception that underscored the rule: All parts of a newspaper are equal, but some parts are more equal than others.
For Snohomish County history-philes, the rule was thrown into relief when the Herald abruptly dropped its long-running history feature, Jack O'Donnell's "Seems Like Yesterday." Tucked inside the local section below the fold, "Yesterday" delivered a compendium of events, sports scores, and headlines culled from the paper's archives. It was the local-color touchstone that was, we believed, more equal than others.
Explaining the decision, Executive Editor Neal Pattison wrote:Championship teams see their winning streaks end. Even the biggest hits on Broadway eventually go dark. And every year, it gets harder and harder to find some of our favorite items on the store shelves. The world around us changes. Things end.
It was the nature of that thing's end that had all the earmarks (and the attendant only-if feel) of an accidental death.
Because of a communications glitch, "Yesterday" was dropped for several days. Its absence, however, didn't kindle a popular uprising. One reader phoned to complain. O'Donnell understood there were at least four e-mails or calls.
No matter. History buffs, unlike history makers, are practitioners of soft power. With the benefit of hindsight, we should have mobilized a history-phile army outfitted as Wobblies and stormed the Herald newsroom shouting, "One Big Union!"
The demise of "Yesterday" raises a broader, existential question. In the age of dice-your-news Internet and print austerity, how salient is local history? The Herald has yet to stumble into the maw of homogenized wire news. Its local coverage is excellent, and its editorial page easily ranks as one of the best in the Northwest. All the while, most SnoCo-ers don't run to the Herald for analysis of Darfur or the financial crisis at Fannie Mae. They read it to get the local skinny. They read it because a sense of place and a sense of history hang together.
It's easy to dismiss features like "Yesterday" as folksy relics, the exclusive reserve of blue hairs with magnifying glasses. Consider, however, the popularity of Web sites such as HistoryLink, with 8,000 daily unique visitors and a "This Week Then" home page that's essentially a writ large version of O'Donnell. Or consider magazines like Harper's and The Atlantic that regularly reprint essays from 50 or 100 hundred years ago. More than octogenarians in letterman's sweaters hunger for this sort of idiosyncratic history.
Neal Pattison is a savvy, experienced editor. He's pledged that the Herald will continue its focus on local history.
In a spirit of reconciliation (Pattison's "things end" sentiment qualifies as philo-Lutheran), and on behalf of the outfitted Wobblies agitating for revolution, I beg of you, Brother Neal, please reconsider.