Continuity. That’s what I show the Cub Scouts, every time they tour our office. And that happens more often than you think.
About half a dozen times a year, I open the door at our Snoqualmie office to groups of Tigers, Webelos and assorted Cubs, to help them earn their media badges. A badge entails a trip to a local media business, and since we’re the closest, many den moms and troop leaders come to us.
Of course, it’s not always the quietest hour, when you’ve got a dozen 7-year-old boys together, a form of critical mass. But for me, and for our publisher, the always communicable William Shaw, this is a captive audience. Not only do I answer the usual questions, among them ‘How do you get stories?’ (most of them come to you, whether you want them or not) and ‘Where do you print the paper?’ (a huge press in Everett. The one here was dismantled years ago, and is not, contrary to myth, buried under the MK Properties office).
With the cubs, one of my favorite stops on the tour is the archive. It’s where we keep the bound volumes, the musty, printed stacks of old newspapers, some nearly a yard tall. Old journalist call it ‘the morgue.’ Maybe that’s because half of the people named in these historic records—ours date back to the ‘40s, older are on film at the North Bend Library—are dead. I prefer to think of these archives as the preserved memory of lives.
I ask a Scout or two tell me their birth date. We’ll flip to the mid-2000s, and discover how Snoqualmie and North Bend were booming or struggling with growth or lack of it, or transforming at the very moment these Cubs entered life. Would you believe me if I told you that doesn’t emake you feel old?
Needless to say, I generally don’t repeat this process for the moms. But sometimes, you can do this for the grandparents. One curious Scout asked to go back to the 1940s, looking for the World War II-era news that a grandpa or maybe great-grandpa lived through. He was seeking continuity, and that’s exactly what I do this for—to preserve and transmit the lives and lessons of the Valley.
I’ve never been a teacher, but I try to give these kids lessons, something they’ll take with them. Last time, it was just one Cub, and his little sister, along for the ride. Lectures are boring for a 7-year-old. So I made it hands-on. The boy got to handle my digital recorder. Sister got a legal pad, big in her tiny hands, and a pencil. I had them come up with questions for each other, then interview each other. It’s hands-on training, and I hope they remember their taste of being, pardon the pun, cub journalists. They saw how it all starts, with a question and an answer.
Sometimes, I wish that Scouting authorities would move the media badge to an older age. Older boys, and also girls, as I’d welcome Girl Scouts and Camp Fire Girls as well, would stand to benefit more from exploring how the news is made, how it begins and ends at a personal level, and how much curation of history happens in these rare places, hometown newspaper offices. It could spark ideas about future careers, where communication is going, and why the various medias are different.
If you’ve ever asked why newspapers are still around in the age of the smartphone, I would answer that the very presence of a business that tries, however imperfectly, to chronicle the lives of its communities and neighbors, whether they want to be chronicled or not, still has value. I think the Scout groups realize that, if not before their visit, then after.
Our door is open. Your merit badge is waiting.