Wednesday, December 13, 2006
This is the home of the Colfax Record. The paper, established in 1908, has been living here since 1930. Yes, that’s right, I said living. Newspapers are born, live for a while – sometimes a long while – and then they die. Occasionally they come back to life, but they’re never really the same.
The Colfax Record has been in regular publication since 1908. For nearly 100 years it has been the voice of this small railroad town. Although a much larger company now owns it, it is still written locally, right here. And though it’s no longer printed in-house, the presses are close by - just down the hill at the Auburn Journal, the flagship of the local group of newspapers that includes the Record.
Gold Country Media, the parent company of the Journal, the Record and 15 other publications (about half are newspapers), is itself a smaller operating unit of a larger company, Brehm Communications. Still, the Record, the Journal and the other papers that comprise Gold Country Media are, in many respects, independent. And that is a good thing.
The local newspaper is the heartbeat of a community. It is often the repository for a town's collected history; the lives lived, the tragedies and the triumphs. This very building houses the archives of the majority of the issues dating back to 1908. They aren’t on microfiche or stored in .PDF files - there is no index. The archives are the actual print copies of the newspaper… some almost 100 years old.
The collection is amazingly complete. Not every issue is represented, and for some reason the entire year of 1956 is missing, but most are here. These fragile volumes are available for public viewing, however, we get a little nervous when the older volumes are requested… and we are very careful about how they are handled. Nevertheless, the Record not only documents the present, it also stores the past. The archives are the next best thing to a time machine.
Someday they should be scanned and filed electronically. Eventually, these fragile volumes need to be preserved and protected. One day, direct access by anyone who comes in and asks will be impossible. These and other very old archives will someday be accessible to anyone at the click of a mouse, much like other historic documents already are. For now, and like many other newspapers large and small, only the recent past is available via the Internet.
The archives, in their entirety, tell a story all their own. It’s the life story of a newspaper. How it reacted to events that shook the world as well as the local high school football team’s winning season. The procession of publishers, editors and reporters that documented these stories while imparting their own style and personality all contributed to the overall character of the paper. And for the past six months, I have left my mark as well.
I wonder sometimes who might someday be leafing through the discolored, fragile archives of 2006. I guess perhaps no one will have access to the actual copies, or maybe the preservation of the physical print version will have been replaced by more modern methods. I wonder if the experience can be the same without the soft, velvety feel of decaying newsprint. Without the oh-so delicate turning of the ancient pages, does the history still translate?
No matter, my contribution to the newspaper’s DNA will still be apparent. There are a number of very good, very personal reasons why I do what I do. That my byline will live on as long as the paper does is among them. And so too is my impact on the community I served briefly, in the early years, of the 21st century.