Light is Right Joe Campbell

Light is Right Joe Campbell

There sure are a lot of stars, a lot of suns, too. In Canada alone, there is at least one star in most provinces and a multi-province chain of suns. Since modern journalism began in 17th century Europe, stars and suns have proliferated on newspaper mastheads around the world.

Try as I may, I can’t figure out why we circulate news under old names. Nor can I figure out how newspaper publishers have gotten away with plagiarism all this time. They should be among the first to recognize literary theft. But they don’t, apparently. From the outset, they’ve stolen the names of each other’s papers without shame or legal consequence.

Even rock bands, which are here today and gone tomorrow, protect their names. You would think that newspapers, many of which have been here for centuries, would protect theirs. Not only star and sun, but post, herald, telegraph, gazette, express, mercury, guardian and observer, among other venerable names, are available free of charge. Maybe it’s because publishers believe in free expression.

It isn’t because they believe in free newspapers. You usually have to pay for them. You even have to pay when they go under the name free press. Try taking a copy of the Winnipeg Free Presswithout paying and see how far you get. Pleading that the masthead misled you won’t help. It certainly didn’t help me.

It’s easy to see why star and sun are desirable newspaper names. Both suggest stability and dependability, and sun, in addition, suggests enlightenment. The sun, of course, is a nearby star, although some publishers don’t seem to realize it. Otherwise, why would they call their newspapers the sun-star? Maybe the redundancy is the result of mergers. For the sake of including the original names, the publishers risk looking ignorant.

Multiple mergers can be suffocating. During the 1980s, New Orleans residents choked on The Times-Picayune/The States-Item. By the time they finished pronouncing it, the news had gone stale. Mercifully, the publisher later shortened the name by 13 letters. His motivation, I suspect, was to avoid lawsuits for public endangerment.

The Kingston Whig-Standard, also born of a merger, doesn’t clog the throat. It just muddles the mind. Whig indicates left of centre. Standard suggests right. The name is a contradiction, like progressive conservative. The only excuse for the mental muddle is that the merger occurred within living memory of the Liberal-Conservative Party, an even more blatant contradiction, and fell under its influence. That’s the party our first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, founded, no doubt during one of his alcoholic muddles.

My local daily, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, was born of a merger rich in symbolism. If the star collapses into a black hole, the daily will rise phoenix-like from the ashes to report its own demise. Some editors will do anything to be first with the news.

Being first with the news means getting it out fast. So it makes sense that in 1855 the Daily Telegraphstarted publishing in London (not our London). The name was a public relations coup, as telegraphy was new technology and resonated with readers and writers alike. In one of his crisp similes, Mark Twain described a wild horse as darting away like a telegram.

It doesn’t make sense that in 1896 theDaily Mailalso started publishing in London. No writer I know of has described a wild horse as darting away like a letter. Although they usually reach their destination, letters are rarely first or fast.

It also doesn’t make sense that either mail or telegraph appear on newspaper mastheads in the age of radio, television and the internet. The publishers should have retired both long ago. Oh, I suppose mail might logically survive. But only if the publisher re-names the paper the Daily E-Mail.

Another thing I don’t understand is how newspapers with boring names survive in communities with interesting ones. Newspapers in my province have included one or more Journals, Heralds, Citizens, Times, Reviews, Mirrors, Couriers and, of course, Suns and Stars. Communities have included Moose Jaw, Indian Head, Elbow, Eyebrow, Smiley, Love, Climax and Paradise Hill.

I realize that opposites attract, but there has to be more to it than that. Maybe the communities exhausted their reserves of imagination naming themselves, and had none left when it came to naming their newspapers. Or, maybe the stars were aligned against them.