Revisited: Breaking news from the local paper

Being an old guy, I’m understandably a fan of old media, or what we used to call newspapers. I remember how excited I was the first time I had my picture in the local paper, as an awkward preteen caught in mid-air jump during a tryout for a local production of “The Sound of Music.” A few years later, I had a letter to the editor published that espoused human rights for broccoli in The Miami Herald. I spent many hours I should’ve been sitting in college classes instead working for the student newspaper, where my big achievement was planting a story about a meeting of the Streakers Club, which ultimately led to a mention in Newsweek magazine and a nationwide craze.

If that’s not the most bizarre career arc in journalism, it’s probably pretty close. I applied for a few editorial positions with publications as esteemed as the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat and the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer after college, but fortunately for everybody involved I didn’t get the jobs. Still, I’ve remained a life-long news junkie, subscribing to a number of papers (two).

In many ways, my favorite is the small local daily in my mid-sized South Carolina city. It’s a surprisingly professional periodical with just enough small-town amateurism to keep me unintentionally entertained. Today and tomorrow, I’m going to highlight a few of the more memorable features I’ve encountered in the last month. We’ll start with the news side of the operation.

From a “Fireworks primer” published during the holiday season: “Shooting fireworks from a moving vehicle or at a vehicle is prohibited. Nominate a ‘designated shooter’ for your fireworks display if alcoholic drinks are part of your plans. Let neighbors know your plans – hearing firecrackers explode unexpectedly outside the window can be a shock.” You think?

From “Deaths in the news”: “George Francis, the nation’s oldest man, died Saturday. He was 112. The UCLA gerontologist who maintains a list of the world’s oldest people says the oldest living person is Maria de Jesus of Portugal, who is 115.” Or at least she was a living person at press time.

From “(Local) woman hopes for return of stolen Jesus”: “(She) has set up a crèche every year in the yard of her home for as long as she can remember. The two stolen figures [a wise man was also snatched] can’t be replaced, she said, because she bought them four or five years ago from Carolina Pottery, which has since (gone out of business.)”

From a correction: “In a story about actor David Spade donating $100,000 to the Phoenix police, the AP erroneously reported the first name of a Phoenix police spokesman. His name is Andy Hill.” You would’ve thought the error was going to be that David Spade even had $100,000.

From the sports section: “Practice starts Jan. 12 for men’s (college) golf, with the season opener set for Feb. 15 at the Rice Intercollegiate. Practice starts Jan. 12 for women’s golf, with the season opener set for Feb. 22 in Kiawah Island.” Nothing matches the excitement of college golf – the pep band, the cheerleaders, the tailgating, the ceremonial washing of the balls…

From “Religious recordings hidden in dolls”: “Jennifer Calandra bought dolls at Wal-Mart for her daughters shortly after Thanksgiving. What she ended up with was a baby doll that says ‘Islam is the light.’ Calandra said she thought she was going crazy. She exchanged the doll for another but the second doll said the same thing. ‘It’s not really something you want to hear coming from a doll,’ she said. The doll’s message has sparked a lot of questions from her 7-year-old daughter about religious tolerance. She wants to know why it’s wrong to say ‘Islam is the light.’”

From the veteran local gardening columnist: “The kids are here! The grandkids are here! They were throwing a party for us so of course I had to get a hairdo. First let me tell you about the party tables. Each had three candlesticks, special ornaments turned upside-down and secured with double-sided tape, and a bed of greenery. The theme was repeated outdoors using large concrete urns filled with kitty litter. I ventured into the foggy night to gather more greenery … golden mophead cypress and Siberian Iris seedpods and twigs. What a difference those twigs make! It was nearly 3 a.m. when I brushed my teeth, glanced into the mirror and went into shock. My pretty hairdo was long gone, a victim of our misty foray into the woods.”

Finally, from two separate letters to the editor: “We recently attended the Cheer for Children Charity event and were really impressed. The crowd was lively, loud and good. Meaningful gifts were distributed.” And the other letter: “There are several states that have God on their license plates. Yet even though the plate costs $29 and gives Christians their first amendment rights for free expression, the judge shot it down. Separation of church and state doesn’t apply when Muslim students are allowed to pray in school several times a day, or where taxpayer money was used to provide foot baths so these students could clean their feet before praying.”

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at some local advertising.

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