Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind

Educated opinions

Through the years of my journalism career the range of the topics on which I feel competent to comment has been narrowing. If I'm so blessed as to have people who actually look forward to seeing Jonals from me each week, some may have noticed evidence for this narrowing by the fact that I've been finding it so hard to find topics to write about lately that the output has become erratic. What a contrast to the first year of the Jonals when I actually put one out every day! But at that time it wasn't so much about my competence but the fact that I felt there was something of an online community bouying up the energy and sparking ideas; it was more like a conversation.

When I was made editor of the Nanty Glo Journal in 1962, I felt it both a duty of the job and an opportunity for faithful stewardship of God's providence that a part of that job entailed—morally required—producing at least one editorial every week. The editorial page of the paper normally had space for at least two locally written opinion pieces. These appeared in all three of the papers in the Mainline group at that time, and since the other editors in the company were less idealistic than I was (less "green," to put it in another frame of reference), they were willing to let me do most of the editorial writing if I wanted to do it.

I'm sure the fact that I was a conservative always looking for issues to rally around to oppose trends and events in the national, state, and local communities that demonstrated the erosion of moral and even aesthetic standards rubbed them the wrong way, but usually they were happy to let a conservative editorial stand if it meant they didn't have to produce any alternative. Herman Sedloff, our publisher and a dyed-in-the-wool liberal who had chosen Nanty Glo as an ideal location to advance the causes he believed in, chuckled at this. He understood it and countered it by running syndicated opinion columns by liberal writers in Washington. He was not a writer himself.

Most journalists are content to be just one step ahead of their readers when it comes to developing and publishing their educated opinions. I would read a feature in the National Observer or New York Herald-Tribune (which Herman, who had moved to the Valley from New York City, subscribed to for the Journal) and that would inspire me to form an opinion I considered worth sharing with my amorphous readership. Reading a 2000-word feature in a more highly regarded publication was enough "education" to support my greenhorn opinions, which were usually expressed in 200- to 400-word bursts of exuberance.

And this is how it usually works. Some columnists have earned their jobs on the basis of books they've produced demonstrating real expertise, but most of them have just evolved by the one-step-ahead method. Their expertise may be no deeper than the last bull session she sat in on at the corner bar where a local politico waxed loquatious about his current pet project, or the most recent interview with a campaign worker. But if it stirs an opinion, that's often enough. And if it proves to be a faulty opinion, in the long run it doesn't matter. But also in the long run it's a large part of why newspaper readership is declining almost monthly; it's why I never read newspapers these days despite my background. The small cross-section of readers who used to read editorials is now savvy about how they're produced and figure they could come up with a piece just as good, so why bother let some other greenhorn influence them?

C.S. Lewis first opened my eyes to this reality. He boasted that he never read newspapers which, when I first read it made me think "how could he be a well-informed adult in a democratic society without regular newspaper reading?" And he also declared that there are many topics on which it's better not to be well informed. Usually, the headlines are all you need to know. He was at the height of his career as Oxford professor during World War II, and even though his brother was a naval officer for part of the war, he early decided that reading the daily coverage of the campaigns was a waste of time, though most of the public at that time was riveted to the coverage. But by the time the coverage appeared in the English papers the whole war had moved on to new realities. And of course the reporters were often repeating things they had been told by others whose perspectives were highly limited, rather than eye-witnesses of the fighting. The headlines, the casualty counts, gave a true enough picture of the situation; knowing more details was likely to further skew the "knowledge" of the real action at the front.

Any thoughts? How has your news utilization or exposure changed?

— Webmaster Jon Kennedy


7/11: I found your Jonal on educated opinions interesting. Although, and this should come as no surprise, I don't agree with some of it. Though I'm certain you obtained your facts on the decline of newpaper reading from a reliable source, I don't think a lot of the folks in Home Page Country were included in any survey, if indeed any were taken... or perhaps the results to which you had access were based on a combination of low subscription numbers and falling revenue...or both.

It's no secret that one of my favorite hang-outs is Al's Pizza where on any given day, the Johnstown Tribune Democrat and the Journal are available free for the browse while you wait for your take-out or enjoy in-house while you dine. I do both religiously, often needing to wait until someone else is finished with the newspaper or Journal before I can get my hands on it. I've noticed patrons in the Niner-Diner engrossed in the newspaper as well and there's always a copy available for reading at the Nanty Glo Library. At our humble abode on Gobbler's Nob, though I personally miss a day or two here or there, the hubby reads the newspaper daily from front page to back page in order to keep abreast of happenings both within our general area and the world as well.

As for getting one's news from on-line sources or the television cable news networks. I personally choose cable news as opposed to Internet newspapers. I lean toward CNN. I feel they are the least "opinionated" cable news source...more committed to giving just the facts as opposed to those on the ultra-Liberal MSNBC or the ultra-conservative FOX News. I will say though, In my opinion, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show is the best cable news program on the air today. Maddow is like a bloodhound when searching out the facts and all I want is the facts which I can then use to formulate my own opinions on a subject. I'm not interested in the opinions of Hannity, Beck and Olberman with their theatrics, or Chris Matthews with his browbeating, tactics which in my opinion are presented to shine the spotlight on the person giving the opinion rather than the facts.

I can't fathom the mindset behind not wanting to know about certain things. Or at least knowing enough about certain subjects to form an opinion in the course of conversation.How does one justify his/her own lack of interest in the Gulf oil spill and it's disastrous effects on the folks in the Gulf states, the war in Afghanistan, the fact that our schools are producing too many graduates who can't read or type out a job resume,' global warming, etc, etc, etc? What does one say when asked an opinion of the Afghan War when one pays no attention to its events? Can we blame the lack of interest aka Malaise for some of the things we now have no interest in because we had no interest in the events that led up to them?

Judy Rose

Webmaster's note: One-word in my defense, Google. Example finding: Newspaper Circulation Continues to Decline

7/9: Hi Jon,

Well, I read onine articles by Matt Drudge, and I watch Fox News and listen to talk radio. I try to read other opinions besides conservative because I think it is good to see how the other side is responding. My opinions of Political Issues has really undergone a change with the Internet and all, because our family mostly thought that President Roosevelt was more or less on God's side. I since have learned that he was a socialist, and do not think our nation needs socialism. I worry about rationed medical care, especially since I suffer from arthritis, and may need a hip replacement . I do not think any purpose is served, however, by debating those who hold a different opinion. I made an enemy of a person that I like by teasing about political opinions. I am just beginning to realize how little informed I am.

Dominic listens to angry talk show conservatives. They sound as if they would like to hurt someone who does not share their opinions. Our Pastors used to talk about Political Issues but they do not do that anymore. I do not know why they have quit speaking about these issues. I did read Newsweek Magazines' rating of public schools recently (but read it online). Our Oregon grandkids' school, was 5th in the nation, according to Newsweek.

The Valedictorian was friends with our grandkids since they were tots. He had a 4.9 gpa. They attend a charter school.

Sallie C[ovolo]



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Today's chuckle

My heart sank as I read the spam that began, "By opening this e-mail, you have activated the Amish computer virus."

Then I realized that not only was my computer in jeopardy, so was my reputation as it continued, "Since the Amish don't have computers, this works on the honor system. Please delete all your files. Thank you."

Thought for today

You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.

C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, now in stores, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. From May 9, 2007 through July 2, 2008 his blog entries or "Jonals" were articles inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series. The book is available for purchase in support of the Liberty Museum in Nanty Glo and is also available on Amazon.



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