Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Newspapers are Dying, You Say?

[editor's note: Tomorrow, February 4, Dr. Joyce Baugh will speak about her book, The Detroit School Busing Case: Milliken v. Bradley and the Controversy over Desegregation, at 7:00 pm in the Park Library Auditorium. A reception will follow in the Clarke.] 


Newspapers are Dying, You Say?

by Frank Boles

You hear it almost everywhere; newspapers are either dead or dying. Everything is migrating to the Internet and old-fashioned, printed papers are a thing of the past.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the annual meeting of the Michigan Press Association. Turns out a funny thing happened on the way to the cemetery. Profits. In some cases, record profits. This profitability is not evenly distributed. The big-city, metropolitan papers, about ten percent of the newspaper titles in America, are losing subscribers and income. But newspapers in small communities are doing well. Many are setting profit records. How is this possible to lose money in the big city but make it in small towns?

America has about 20,000 newspapers. A bare majority are small, independently-owned publications, with an additional sizable minority in relatively small newspaper groups – less than five newspaper titles. Most of these independent papers or small chains are weeklies or dailies in small markets. Those that are most profitable relentlessly focus on local news. They realize that their readers can turn to CNN or the New York Times for national and international coverage. But CNN and the New York Times won’t have much to say about last night’s city council meeting or the prospects for the local high school football team. To find out about those stories, people who live in these communities still buy a newspaper.

Some of the local newspapers collected by the Clarke

Also interesting are two additional characteristics of the most successful of these small papers. The trick is not just local news. It is well-written, well-laid-out newspapers. When non-subscribers are polled about why they don’t buy a paper, their two biggest complaints are not enough local news (38%) and poor writing (22%). This survey corroborated what another speaker had said earlier in the conference, there is still money to be made in print newspapers, but only if you display journalistic excellence, with interesting, well-written stories, displayed in an easy-to-read manner.

Thousands of reels of Michigan
newspapers on microfilm
in the Clarke stacks
For more than fifty years, the Clarke Historical Library has worked to preserve and distribute Michigan’s historical, local newspapers. I have been asked, more than once, what happens when all those papers go out of business? The answer it seems is that they aren’t going to go out of business. Better yet, the way to stay in business is not to cut staff and pages, but to devote time and energy to excellent coverage of local events. Newspapers with that emphasis are not only performing an important community service, they are creating the next generation of newspapers that will, in a few years, become important community history.

Having spent two days with journalists, editors, and publishers, I came away with the feeling that this aspect of the Clarke Historical Library mission, preserving and making available Michigan’s historical newspapers, will grow, especially as the smaller regional newspapers the Library documents thrive by engaging in quality local journalism. The better each paper is, the better the history we can eventually share with communities around the state.

It is  certainly an exciting time to be working with Michigan’s local newspapers. If you are interested in joining in, take a look at our blog post explaining how you can help to bring historic Michigan newspapers online for people all over the word to explore.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Please Help Digitize Newspapers

by Frank Boles

Last week proved many of you are as excited as we are about digitizing and placing online Michigan’s historic newspapers. In the course of a week, more than 110,000 Tweets and 8,000 postcards were received casting votes for your favorite city. The Clarke staff congratulates Alpena on their victory. But now what?

The truth is all five finalist newspapers in last week's election deserve to be made available online. The truth is there are many other papers, equally important, that should be available online. The truth is, without your help, there is no money to make this happen. For more than fifty years, the Clarke Historical Library has been microfilming Michigan newspapers to ensure their preservation. For the last decade, we have added the ability to digitize newspapers and we have invested in the software to make them freely available online. But over all this time, we have had to charge people to do this. In University budgeting terminology, this project is “self-funded.” There are no tax dollars helping make this happen; there are no student tuition dollars being used to support this work. There is just a small library with a passionate commitment to Michigan newspapers, which works with friends and neighbors whose dollars help us move toward the goal of saving Michigan’s newspaper heritage and making it available online.

Two dedicated endowments help support this work. Through the generosity of Robert and Susan Clarke, and the family of Gail D. Knapp, our library has the means to annually digitize and upload about 20,000 newspaper pages online. It’s a start, but it’s a small start. There are well over a million pages that we know of, waiting to come online – and likely other newspapers are hiding, waiting to be discovered, preserved, and made available.

A Clarke student assistant works to digitize
historic newspapers from microfilm

If you have participated in the contest, or if you share our passion to see Michigan’s historic newspapers freely available online, please consider making a financial contribution to either the Robert and Susan Clarke Endowment, or the Knapp Family Genealogical Endowment. If everyone who voted gave us one dollar for every tweet or postcard they contributed, the endowments would grow enough so that next year, when we again offer Michigan communities a chance to have their newspaper placed online, we could digitize closer to 100,000 pages. It would still take a long time to make all the state’s historical newspapers available – but the job might be done in something like a decade, instead of a century.

Please mail a check made payable to Central Michigan University – Robert and Susan Clarke Endowment or Central Michigan University – Gail D. Knapp Endowment to the Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, MI 48859. Your contribution is tax deductible.

Please help. Every gift, small or large, will allow us to carry on this important work.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Clarke Spring Speaker Series: Dr. Joyce Baugh on the Detroit School Busing Case

On Thursday, February 4th, the Clarke will welcome Dr. Joyce Baugh, CMU professor of political science and author of The Detroit School Busing Case: Milliken v. Bradley and the Controversy over Desegregation (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2011). Dr. Baugh is the first guest of the Spring 2016 Clarke Speaker Series.

​​In the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, racial equality in American public education appeared to have a bright future. But, for many, that brightness dimmed considerably following the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Milliken v. Bradley (1974). While the literature on Brown is voluminous, Joyce Baugh's measured and insightful study offers the only available book-length analysis of Milliken, the first major cross-district desegregation case to originate outside the South.

As Baugh chronicles, when the city of Detroit sought to address school segregation by busing white students to black schools, a Michigan statute signed by Gov. William Milliken overruled the plan. In response, the NAACP sued the state on behalf of Ronald Bradley and other affected parents. The federal district court sided with the plaintiffs and ordered the city and state to devise a "metropolitan" plan that crossed city lines into the suburbs and encompassed a total of fifty-four school districts. The state, however, appealed that decision all the way to the Supreme Court.

In its controversial 5-4 decision, the Court's new conservative majority ruled that, since there was no evidence that the suburban school districts had deliberately engaged in a policy of segregation, the lower court's remedy was "wholly impermissible" and not justified by Brown, which the Court said could only address de jure, not de facto segregation. While the Court's majority expressed concern that the district court's remedy threatened the sanctity of local control over schools, the minority contended that the decision would allow residential segregation to be used as a valid excuse for school segregation.

To reconstruct the proceedings and give all claims a fair hearing, Baugh interviewed lawyers representing both sides in the case, as well as the federal district judge who eventually closed the litigation; plumbed the papers of Justices Blackmun, Brennan, Douglas, and Marshall; talked with the main reporter who covered the case; and researched the NAACP files on Milliken. What emerges is a detailed account of how and why Milliken came about, as well as its impact on the Court's school-desegregation jurisprudence and on public education in American cities.

Dr. Baugh's talk begins at 7:00 p.m. in the Park Library Auditorium and a reception will follow in the Clarke. This event is free and open to the public. For more information about other events in the Clarke Speaker Series this spring, head over to the Clarke's Event Page.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Kids and Culture

By Victoria Fisher

Radio station CFX’s “Kids and Culture” event, which introduces kids to cultural venues around Mount Pleasant, kicked off on Saturday, January 16, with CMU Libraries and the University Art Gallery. The first in a series of events that will take place at various locations throughout the year, “Kids and Culture” featured numerous activities for all ages. The University Art Gallery posed the question of how we can take better care of our planet and allowed for the kids to respond through art.

In Park Library’s Baber Room, paper and pictures were available for kids to make books. From old calendars and bits of ribbon, kids creatively pieced together a unique story that was all their own, giving them the chance to express their own stories and ideas. McDonald's provided delicious refreshments.

The Clarke Historical Library brought out books from their children’s collection for a fun and interactive storytelling with Clarke student assistant Victoria Fisher. Throughout the storytelling, kids were asked to make predictions, reflect, and share some of their own experiences. Books ranged in topic from the legend of the dreamcatcher, to imaginary friends, to a book titled "Stanley Goes Fishing" by Craig Frazier – tying in with the Clarke’s current exhibit, The Michigan Angler.

Whether participants took advantage of every location or just one, it was a Saturday morning enjoyed by all.

Victoria displaying "Stanley Goes Fishing"

Friday, January 8, 2016

“Burial of an Infant in Florida”

Burial of an Infant in Florida
by Lt. George Patten

I lay thee here my sinless one
I put thee down to rest
But not upon thine eider bed
Nor on thy mother’s breast
Within this little grave they’ve scooped
Far in the forest wild
I lay thee here my precious one
I leave thee here my child

These lines are taken from a poem written in 1840 during the second Seminole War. They refer to the infant son of Captain Joseph Rowe Smith and his wife Juliette. Smith commanded Company B of the 2nd U.S. Infantry. Juliette accompanied her husband on one campaign in the war. During that campaign their child died, but they could not bury him in a marked grave for fear it would be discovered and desecrated. The complete poem appears in John K. Mahon’s well researched article based on Captain Smith’s diary and letters. See John K. Mahon, “Letters from the Second Seminole War,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 36 (April 1958): 331-52.

Captain Joseph Rowe Smith graduated from West Point in 1823. He fought in both the Seminole War and the Mexican War and rose to the rank of Brigadier General. During the Civil War he served as the military commander of Detroit. He and Juliette made their home in Monroe, Michigan, where Smith died in 1868. The University of Florida holds the diary Smith kept during the Seminole War. The Clarke Historical Library holds the Joseph Rowe Smith Family Papers. Recently the Clarke purchased at auction the portrait of Smith displayed above.

John Fierst

January 6, 2016