Friday, October 2, 2009

October 4-10, 2009

On September 18, another cornerstone of my childhood came to an end. From age five to eighteen, I would come home after school every afternoon and catch up with the Reardons, Lewises, Bauers and other families of the soap opera Guiding Light. Though the storylines often dealt with adult topics such as alcoholism, rape, and cancer, the show at the time drew audiences young and old, given that the only other viewing options were soap operas as well (although, locally, the STM Club aired opposite GL during the mid-80s.) This mother and daughter demographic tied in perfectly with the booming shopping malls at the time, so soap stars often became the main attraction at grand openings and anniversary celebrations:

Considering all but one of the malls mentioned above have closed, it shouldn't be surprising that a similar fate has met the soaps as well.

I stopped watching GL on a regular basis after high school, but I would occasionally tune in over the years to check in on the goings-on in Springfield. I read about the declining ratings, and the resulting switch to outdoor sets and reality tv-like camerawork in order to draw in a younger audience. When the announcement came six months ago that the show would be cancelled, Guiding Light had an opportunity to make a statement; to show the importance of their 72-year old "time capsule," and the shame of casting it aside for a remake of the long-ago cancelled game show Let's Make a Deal. They had 72 years worth of clips at their disposal; 72 years worth of viewer memories. Instead, I tuned in the the last week's worth of episodes just to watch veteran actors looking glum and morose, like not even twenty-five or thirty years of acting experience could mask the reality they were about to join 15.1 million Americans on the unemployment line. Perhaps being relevant to the end, or, more likely, still not getting it.

Not unlike, say, the newspapers.


October 4-10 is National Newspaper Week, a celebration "to build the image of newspapers as a vital and vigorous news medium in the past, present and future as our industry uses all the changing technology to remain the leading gatherer, editor and dispenser of news in the this nation." Locally, the Post-Standard Newspapers in Education division will offer "complimentary Post-Standard e-edition licenses" to every classroom in the Post-Standard reading area that chooses to participate, giving all students the opportunity to read the Post-Standard as part of their daily studies. The Newspapers in Education website currently offers a weekly blog with a "preview of some of the news that you will find in The Post-Standard this week...includ[ing] activity ideas and relevant information to help you plan your lessons." Let's look at some of the listings for the week of September 28-October 2:

Voices: Voices, the weekly page by, for and about local teens is in the CNY section. This week's theme is Blogging. Two teens share why they started blogs and what blogging entails. Another teen writes about his school's news blog.

screenshot on 9/27/09:

HEALTH: Read the story on avoiding Swine Flu and remind students what you are doing in school and in your classroom to avoid it.

Now, you have an abandoned downtown, an empty monstrosity of a mall, impoverished neighborhoods and an upcoming election for a city mayor that has to make sense of it all, and the lessons the Post-Standard encourages Syracuse students to learn about are blogging ("What blogging entails?" Really?), a Colorado group that teaches "non-voilent" yoga to kids in order to "clam" them, and the Swine Flu? This is how the newspaper considers itself the "leading gatherer, editor and dispenser of news in the nation"?

How about this for a classroom lesson?
There is a general agreement among civic leaders that the next four years will be critical ones for the city of Syracuse.

Progressive programs
or lack of themmay well determine whether Syracuse is to continue to be a thriving metropolitan community or tread water and eventually sink into second class obscurity.

The next mayor of Syracuse will face the responsibility of providing imaginative, intelligent, aggressive leadership in many important areas necessary to the community development.

Indifferent or mediocre leadership
a mere "housekeeping" operationcould wreck the city's future for decades.

Keeping the "store" open will not be enough. The next mayor will face a deskful of problems the moment he crosses the threshold of his City Hall office on January 1.

Discussion: Other than the exclusive use of the male pronoun, could this statement from the September 8, 1957 Post-Standard be published in a current edition verbatim? Or is Syracuse currently treading water if not sinking, and if so, should Syracusans study what decisions were made in the 1957 election and why, so as not to repeat them this time around?


I never intended my trilogy of "1950s Syracuse" videos to become a trilogy, or even videos, for that matter. While researching my entry about Parkside Commons six months ago, I came across an article about a proposed 1950s public housing project on the corner of Velasko Road and West Onondaga Street; a corner that I have passed countless times in my life. It's one intersection that I see every time when I am home, because it's on the route between my family's house and the nearest Wegmans. But never once had I heard that this parcel of land was the center of such controversy, or how the public hearings over the matter brought to light the issues that within the next decade would split (or bisect, if you will) Syracuse apart. What I ended up reading could not be condensed into a tidy blog entry (okay, not many of my blog entries could be described as "tidy"); the words had to be read, as written. Interesting that a repeated comment I received regarding the videos was that the quotes went by too fast, as I wished I could put more quotes in every video. When discussing these epic events in the history of Syracuse, it seems not one sentence should end up on the cutting room floor.

Then again, Ken Burns directed his eleven-hour documentary on the Civil War twenty years ago, and over 252,000 books with the keyword "civil war" have been published since. Same as for more recent wars such as World War II, Vietnam: while Wikipedia may sum them up in a few paragraphs and web links, their histories are so vast and complex that there never will be one definitive narrative about the war itself. So why isn't Syracuse's own 20th century conflict—Urban Renewal—studied and discussed in the same manner?

In a column about a 15th Ward reunion published this past August, Post-Standard writer Dick Case stated that the neighborhood's "profile was altered when I-81 went through, in the late 50s and early 60s." Is this what we want the Syracuse school children—the future of Syracuse, if Syracuse can manage to hold on to them—to learn about the 15th Ward? The 15th Ward was merely a casualty of highway technology, not unlike iTunes replacing CDs? City leaders had their eyes on the 15th Ward since the 1930s, presumably under the guise of "slum clearance":

The City of Syracuse, through the municipal administration and Syracuse Housing Authority, is planning a long range program of slum clearance to follow up the demolition of 39 buildings in the 15th Ward which had been condemned by the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Health.

This was learned Wednesday by a group of representative citizens who accompanied Mayor Rolland B. Marvin on a tour of slum sections, with the Mayor pointing out where condemned buildings already had been demolished and indicating other sections in which it is proposed to introduce a slum clearance program. (Syracuse Herald, February 5, 1936)

But even these 1930s Syracuse Newspapers' articles made it quite clear that there was money to be made in "slum clearance," with the ability to utilize the cleared residential land for commercial purposes:

"It is good business to eliminate your slums and undertake housing projects," Miles R. Frisbie of the Schenectady Housing Authority told members and guests of the case work division of the Syracuse Community Chest and Council Wednesday afternoon at the Y.W.C.A.

Social aspects of good housing and slum clearance are acknowledged facts. But the business aspects and economic advantages of such programs have not been stressed enough, according to the speaker.

Schenectady is launched on a program of housing and slum elimination designed to clear downtown portions of the city to make way for municipal parking spaces which will relieve traffic congestion.

"When you approach businessmen with certain facts which prove slums and blighted areas prevent proper care of traffic conditions, make the insurance rates higher in the business districts and prevent the location of new industries within the city—you claim his instant attention and active support," he said. (Syracuse Herald, January 16, 1936)

Ten years later, a Post-Standard editorial openly advocated using slum clearance funds in order solve the downtown parking problem:

One of the things Syracuse must do is to provide off-street parking in the business area for 1,500 to 2,000 cars.

It has become apparent to even the least discerning that traffic is too congested. There are never enough parking spaces for the number of cars downtown.

The question of financing such a project is a serious one at a time like this, when the city is cramped for money and is determined, with the support of its citizens, not to go back to a wild spending and borrowing regime.

Two factors ought to be considered. One, that the project will be self-liquidating. Two, that funds for slum clearance may be obtainable. (Post-Standard, June 29, 1946)

In other words, bulldoze city homes that had been owned by (African-American) families for decades so that the new (white) suburbanites could have someplace to park. Until I-81 came along twenty years later, and kept everyone out of downtown altogether.

Though where exactly are these lessons taught? Growing up, the only Syracuse history I learned involved elementary school lessons of salt production and the paved-over Erie Canal. By high school, social studies classes focused exclusively on World and US history, as apparently the New York State Regents board didn't see any value in high school students studying their own state history. So why is it that newspapers want to "remain the leading gatherer, editor and dispenser of news in the this nation" by focusing on topics such as swine flu (37,700,000 Google results) and yoga (62,000,000 Google results) when they have such a valuable opportunity to teach children—and adults—about local historical issues such as the 15th Ward (2460 Google results)? I mean, if you want to know what blogging entails, it's this: spending hours at a time searching through a century's worth of newspapers, filling in the gaps of the local history you never learned in school (because while Clinton's Folly turned out to be one of the greatest transport and engineering marvels of the United States—insert corresponding self-esteem metaphor for children here—urban renewal just turned out to be one big, unmitigated failure), all the while wondering why, for all the concern about new media overtaking their business, the print newspapers don't take advantage of the one information asset they possess: the print newspapers.