Cub Scouts remind me of newspaper’s legacy

Written by Jayson Jacoby March 07, 2014 09:18 am

The Cub Scouts were few in number but when the doors were closed they seemed to expand until the room, which can comfortably accommodate at least twice as many adults, felt full at the atomic level.

I fancied that I could hear the faint rasp of electrons colliding as they tried to carve out a little elbow room.

Actually I couldn’t hear much of anything except nine young voices, all going at once and sounding like a natural disaster, albeit one that doesn’t hurt anybody or knock down any buildings.

I don’t know that there’s a name for a group of young boys — as with a pride of lions or a murder of ravens — but there ought to be.

A cacophony, maybe.

Or an eruption.

Anyway the Scouts came by in the late afternoon, infused with a surplus of energy I can’t muster without chemical assistance, to learn something about how a newspaper runs.

We get a couple of these groups every year. I enjoy their visits but I always feel like I let the kids down.

The trouble is we don’t have a printing press on the premises — the Baker City Herald has been printed in La Grande for more than a quarter century — and so I can’t regale the Scouts with much in the way of props.

What we have mainly are computers and stacks of paper, but the kids probably don’t care about paper and they already know more about computers than I do.

I’m sure they’d have more fun if I could show them a large machine that makes an awful racket and could easily sever a couple of fingers if you get to messing around with the wrong pieces.

When I was that age my enthusiasm for field trips rose in direct proportion with the decibel level and the risk of dismemberment.

This group, fortunately, wasn’t expecting me to prattle on about deadlines and page designs. They had a couple of specific goals, one of which reminded me, in what seemed almost an epiphany, of the vital the role a small newspaper plays in its community.

Each of the boys wanted to look at the issue published the day he was born.

None seemed especially interested in the news of those days. But several of the Scouts found their own birth announcements, printed in the News of Record on page 2.

“There I am!” a boy shrieked.

In that instant, as his face contorted in concentration as though he were an archaeologist who had just brushed away the last skim of dirt hiding some fabulous artifact, I remembered that my job has as much to do with preserving the past as it does with chronicling the present.

It’s a fine thing, I think, to be reminded of this occasionally.

There is a humbling lesson, it seems to me, in watching the pure joy of a boy who has just recognized his name in newsprint. The lesson is that every name we print, indeed every word, is important to someone, and that its importance doesn’t fade, as the ink does, but in fact grows as the years pass and the boys become men.

Some day, long after I’ve given over my desk to someone else, people will flip through the yellowing pages just as those Scouts did, searching for a fragment of their lives.

I want to do right by them.

. . .

I wonder what Horace Greeley would have made of www.tripcheck.com.

Greeley is the 19th century New York newspaper editor who delivered the famous advice — “Go West, young man” (although Greeley apparently borrowed the phrase from another writer).

I don’t remember a winter to match this one for freeway closures.

Interstate 84 has been closed, in aggregate, for several days between Pendleton and Ontario.

Westbound travelers have had by far the worst of it. Earlier this week the westbound lanes were closed for the better part of a day between Ontario and Pendleton due to a multi-car crash that killed two truck drivers near Cabbage Hill, yet the eastbound lanes remained open.

The main culprits, in most cases, were ice and fog.

Adding to the frustration for local drivers is that, during several of the lengthier closures, the weather in Baker County was tranquil.

The ice and fog were generally confined to the Blue Mountains between La Grande and Pendleton. Trouble is, Pendleton and La Grande, being rather less than metropolises, can handle only so much diverted traffic. This limitation forces the Oregon Department of Transportation to expand freeway closures to Baker City and, when our parking lots are crammed, to Ontario.

Several people I’ve talked with recently said they’re puzzled about why freeway closures have been so frequent, and long-lasting, considering ice and fog are hardly infrequent phenomenon along the freeway.

I share their curiosity.

Semi-trucks are involved in most crashes that close the freeway, but considering that trucks make up something close to half the traffic volume, this is to be expected.

I wonder, though, whether the penalties for failing to heed the chain law are severe enough to convince drivers to chain up when conditions warrant.

Putting on a chains is a hassle, of course. But there are worse hazards on the highway than being late.

Jayson Jacoby is editor 
of the Baker City Herald.