BY DAN CAMPANA
A three-day work trip to New Orleans meant picking up a couple of souvenirs to bring home for the family.
My wife collects Starbucks “You Are Here” mugs, so finding the New Orleans version proved a “Big Easy” task. My son adopted the Pittsburgh Steelers as a winning football team to root for in recent years, so I bought him some black-and-gold Steelers-theme Mardi Gras beads to add to his collection.
Shopping for myself didn’t take much thought: I grabbed a copy of the Times-Picayune, New Orleans’ 181-year-old newspaper with which I share a birthday. For the record, my debut came 140 years after the paper.
Whether on fishing trips to northern Wisconsin or college spring break visits to Southern California to see family, buying local newspapers ranging in size from the Duluth News Tribune to the Los Angeles Times has always been a part of the travel experience for me.
Sure, I was the kid who carried a quarter to pull a Tribune from the street corner box each day while walking to the school bus, so it’s probably not a surprise I sought out newspapers wherever I traveled over the years.
Fast forward to my decade or so working in newsrooms in DeKalb, Geneva and Aurora. Aside from sharing the day-to-day community newspaper rollercoaster with my colleagues, I quickly realized the affinity others also had for perusing print publications from exotic locations in Montana, New York, Florida and other parts of the country.
Without fail, every time someone returned from a much-needed, much-deserved vacation, a small stack of newspapers would appear on an empty desk for all to browse. Yes, we could have gone online anytime we wanted to read about what’s happening in those communities big and small, but having some other paper’s newsprint on your fingers felt right.
Flipping through the pages of a random broadsheet or tabloid, you’d see bylines with names you didn’t recognize writing about government issues and crimes that didn’t cause much of a ripple outside of the area where the stories originated.
Editors would comment on the local editorials and story quality, while designers dissected layouts and photo choices — all the while keeping an eye out for an idea to borrow for the next page they built.
In the end, as silly as it sounds, we all spent a few minutes connecting with another newsroom staff like ours through this ritual. Those foreign papers would linger for a few days before being recycled. Weeks or months later, a few new samples would arrive and we’d pay similar respects to our brothers and sisters in ink from another region.
It’s been eight years since my day-to-day newsroom life came to an end. Much has changed in the newspaper world and particularly in the places I once called my work home. As I picked up a Times-Picayune inside the Walgreens at Canal and Bourbon streets, I did wonder for a second whether the vacation newspaper ritual lives on.
Although I’ve been home for a week now, that copy of the Times remains on my work table so I can read about the wintry blast and ice storm that wreaked havoc on New Orleans in January.
I could have skimmed the online stories and been done with it all days ago, but what fun would that be?
- Dan Campana is the founder of Dan Cam Com Inc., a communications consulting firm, and a board member of the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association. In previous lives, he was an investigative reporter for The Beacon-News, editor and reporter for the Kane County Chronicle and reporter for the Daily Chronicle.