Recently, a friend asked me to do a small research project which involved scanning through four years' worth of microfilms from the Marriott Library's Daily Utah Chronicle archive.
Now, asking me to look at old newspapers is like asking a junkie to tour Afghanistan's poppy fields. I love everything about newspaper archives: the articles, the photos, the ads -- each issue is a little time-capsule, providing a fascinating glimpse into the zeitgeist of a bygone era.
My newsprint fetish dates back to childhood: At age 11, through no choice of my own, I somehow got drafted into the Boy Scouts of America. I'm not sure how it happened -- at the time, I was so caught up in The Iliad and The Chronicles of Narnia that I didn't pay much attention to the dreary realities of the outside world -- but suddenly I found myself far from the River Scamander or Cair Paravel, in a dreary garage filled with old issues of The Salt Lake Tribune, where an authority figure gave me a ball of twine, a pair of scissors, and instructions to bundle up the papers in stacks of 25 as part of some kind of merit-badge recycling project.
When he returned an hour later to check on my progress, he was irritated that I had gotten through only six or seven stacks. In my own defense, he never said I wasn't supposed to thumb through each issue to read the Public Forum, op-eds and comics. Soon afterward, I was taken off the project, which may have been the first indication that my BSA career was not destined for success.
So, for me, this kind of project is both a blessing and a curse. I love scrolling through microfilms, but when it comes to searching for a particular article, I'm as easily distracted as a magpie in a ball-bearing factory. Oh, look! Something shiny!
Eventually, I found the opinion piece I was looking for -- although, somewhere around the fourth photonegative tape, having scrutinized 250-or-so issues, my eyeballs began vibrating and I had to take a break. The fact that, along the way, I couldn't resist scanning the Chrony's letters section didn't help matters. But I was surprised at how many familiar names popped up.
There were compassionate letters from Louis Borgenicht (a voice of reason for decades in letters sections valleywide), fiery letters from Holly Mullen (who went on to become Chrony editor-in-chief in 1980-81, subsequently pursuing a successful career in journalism, now running for Salt Lake County Council), and an explanatory letter from Utah Sen. Frances Farley (District 1 icon for many years and advocate for women's rights.)
There was also a typically unhinged July 3, 1980 letter from LDS sci-fi author Orson Scott Card, about how the threat of being voted out of office violates the free-speech rights of politicians, since "Elections should be reserved for the time when Congressmen retire of their own free will and voluntarily surrender their platforms for self-expression."
Several letter cropped up from Salt Lake City's grammar maven extraordinaire Keith Moore, known and feared by every local copy editor. Moore has made a career of notifying all the local papers every time they commit a spelling or style error. The thing about him is that he's always watching, and he's nearly always right. I remember him from my turn as editorial-section editor at the Chrony in 1995-96, and he was still at it when I was copy editing for City Weekly in the late 2000s. He taught me a thing or two. But I was surprised to discover that he was at it as early as 1978:
'Chronicle' makes four errors
These errors appeared in the Chronicle in the past week:
Shelley Weyforth put a "k" in "renowned."
Kirk Johnson spoke of "Jane" Mansfield.
A classified ad spoke of "cubicals."
Willard Smith said the transcontinental railroad was joined at Promontory "Point," Utah. I tire of "authoritative" writers who call this place "Promontory Point." False. The event of May 10, 1869, happened at Promontory Summit, Utah. Promontory Point is a sandbar 30 miles south extending into the Great Salt Lake and had absolutely nothing to do with the railroad.
I'm pretty sure Keith got me once on the "renowned" thing.
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