Yellowed thesis proves newspapers have role to play

Yellowed thesis proves newspapers have role to play by Bob Karolevitz More than a half century ago I got a master�s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon, and I�ve hardly ever used it.

I�m not bragging about the educational achievement, however, because I doubt if more than four people, besides myself, ever read my thesis � and as far as I know, they are all dead.

Since then, my brilliant bit of scholarship � titled �The 1949 Portland Newspaper Strike: A Study of Its Effect on the Community� � has grown yellow with age on the bookshelf. I stumbled across it by accident the other day and decided all that work deserved at least a small measure of exposure.

As I reread it for the first time in more than five decades, I was surprised that some of the things I learned might still be valid today. I proved that newspapers have a role to play, besides wrapping fish.

Here�s what happened a long, long time ago (less the footnotes and all that other academic stuff):

On Feb. 18, 1949, 93 members of the Web Pressmen�s Union walked off their job with Oregon�s two leading papers, The Oregonian and the Oregon Journal. They never returned to work, and Portland � then a city of half a million people � was without either of its two dailies for almost a month.

While the strike was in progress, I got into my post-war Kaiser automobile and drove from Eugene to Portland to see what happened when folks were cut off from the printed word.

To start with, 2,000 other employees of the two papers were out of work, and 4,500 newsboys didn�t have anything to peddle. Nearby restaurants were without customers, so they suffered economic woes as well. The problem then spread throughout the city like tumbling dominoes.

These are some of the things which occurred:

? Florists suffered serious loss of business because acquaintances of deceased people didn�t learn of deaths until the funerals were over.

? Attendance at movie theaters dropped off because nobody knew what was playing.

? Furniture, clothing and jewelry stores canceled special sales because of the lack of print advertising.

? Ministers reported a drop in church attendance � especially evening services � when there were no notices in the papers.

? Kids (and adults, too) missed the funny papers; and crossword addicts could hardly wait for the strike to end.

Television was not a factor in 1949, and radio tried to fill the gap. However, it was soon evident that the two mediums (media, for you Latin buffs) served different functions.

For instance, radio could not replace classified advertising, legal notices, vital statistics, sports box scores, obituaries, wedding reports and birth announcements. �You can�t paste a radio blurb in a scrapbook,� one observer said.

One gal, who always sat down with a cup of java and the morning paper after she got the kids off to school, complained that she never had an enjoyable cup of coffee while the strike was on.

So it went. The walkout demonstrated that newspapers played a unique role in the community and that they were sorely missed, even by those who bellyached about them.

Finally the strikers returned, the presses rolled and I got to wear a cap and gown.

I suppose I contributed a mite to the world�s vast store of knowledge � but I�m afraid that only the four dead guys and I knew what it was.

� 2003 Robert F. Karolevitz

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