Newsprint: cut to fit the cages

Sometimes it takes that random sidetrack trip around the U.S. to help calibrate the nation. These travels, particularly when confined in a town like Detroit, to pick on one, suffering with an upper respiratory infection and unable to fly as I am now, means that you will end up reading newspapers that are not your normal reads. That is, if you're a reader, didn't bring adequate reading materials for an unexpected week on the road, and are sick of cable tv, you will inevitably deposit 50 cents in the motel lobby newstand every morning.

Why is it like a foreign country out there?

I mean, I can't even get my favorite comic strip (For Better or For Worse, by a Canadian, just across the bridge for heaven's sake) in the Detroit News and Free Press.

There's a lot that could be said but I just want to pick on an actual edition, the October 23, 2004 Detroit News and Free Press. [Editors, you see, make all sorts of decisions about what articles get into the papers, their length, and their positioning relative to other articles. It's my guess they get paid pretty well for their judgment on these points too. I contend some of them have gotten lazy and may be overpaid.]

In the first section, "A," or "Nation/World," follows "Local News" for some reason. There are different theories about how people relate to their worlds I suppose; top-down or bottom-up. If someone only had time to read one section only aloud to their carpool van each morning (Hoo-HAH, Scoozehmehwha, that wouldn't be the Michigan Way!), which section would a growing globalized world want to know about? Oh, I digress. . .

Three pages are challenged here: 3A, 4A, and 5A.

Margaret Hassan, the kidnapped director of the international aid group CARE was covered with a sorrowful photo and the caption, "Aid Worker pleads for her life." This is a tragic story still unfolding, perhaps is by now even unforgiveably, brutishly, settled.

Then there was the tragic case of a lovely 21-year-old baseball fan, Victoria Snelgrove, who was killed in the riot-like conditions in Boston following police pepper-spraying/pelting. About her death her father said, "she was a bystander, she was an exceptional person."

And, the third story of comparable space and size is one that might appear any October in some small town weekly, "Surgeons' knives to meet pumpkins." You probably get the gist of this 'news item' -- a lot of carved 'victims' for charity fundraising.

I just don't think the pumpkin story should have taken the prominent position of page 3, followed by the potential beheading on page 4, and the death on page 5. It's not a good measure of newsworthiness.

But then, don't get me started. You see, when you flip back to page 11A you can't help but notice two obituaries side by side: "Badminton Champion," and "Funeral for soldier today." They are actually called "death notices," which means they are paid for privately (often written so as well, even if edited by the paper). The family who is Able to do so pays for each word by word. No doubt genealogists treasure the items found in the sizeable (10"x10") article of the 85-year-old's badminton player's obit., like her youthful picture (~17 yrs. old), mention of every safari, and her beloved badminton awards.

Yet, I couldn't help but feel humbled by the tiny 1"x3" pictureless notice of the soldier killed in Iraq near Ramadi when his Humvee hit a roadside bomb Oct. 14. See, he was just 22, so he hadn't done a lot of living yet; although he did leave a son behind. I would have had liked to have known much more about his sports, his hobbies, a fund to contribute for his young son, and what his dreams were after his years in service to the U.S.A.

Ah, the choices that newspaper editors makes --

Pumpkins versus Beheading; Badminton versus Bomb detonations. . .

It just makes me want to claim a refund on my 50 cents.