Every morning I enjoy coffee and a newspaper. I usually check the sports page first, so I don’t have to think too much while I’m waking up. We read the Los Angeles Times so several days a week Bill Plaschke gets me worked up about how the Lakers blew their latest recruiting negotiations or how a too-old soccer player now coaches a team of marginalized girls that normally would never get to play. The coach’s motto is, “If you can play, you can play.” The coach provides rides, shoes, uniforms and family counseling as needed. I don’t always agree with Plaschke, but he can sure liven up my day.

If I have time, I also read Steve Lopez and Robin Abcarian. Lopez can get me riled up over some shenanigan like members of the Coastal Commission meeting with builders in secret or how to help a gifted musician who lives on the streets due to mental illness. I am in awe of how skilled Lopez is in coming up with interesting topics each and every week, doing hours of research or interviewing, and then putting his ideas on paper. To make myself clear, I don’t always concur with Lopez, but he certainly makes me look at issues through a wider lens.

Abcarian is even more adamant about her version of right and wrong. She can lay out her case better than most lawyers and even if you start out reading her articles with distaste, pretty soon you find you have to agree with many of her well-written points.

The LA Times has a long history of producing numerous award-winning articles. Barbara Davidson wrote about innocent victims trapped in LA’s crossfire of deadly gang violence. The Times exposed the corruption in the small city of Bell in 2011, and Diana Marcum wrote a series on how California areas were dealing with extreme drought. Steve Lopez stuck his neck out again when he compared the lives of LA’s declining middle class and the growing class of super-rich. This list of great newspaper writers only adds to the long-held belief in the power of print.   

My love for newspapers started when I was very young, and my brother and I would fight over the “funnies.”  Then I added Ann Landers to my required reading as my mother thought Landers had the answers to all life’s problems. In high school, I took the school newspaper class, and then the following year became the editor. Because of this activity, my high school teacher recommended me for a summer job with our local weekly paper, the Lindsay Gazette. This job started out with me being (ha, ha) the society editor. This meant I wrote about weddings, celebrations, engagements, births and all the other really important news stories. Believe me, it was not a happy event if I printed a name wrong or left anything out.

An older gentleman, the retired editor of the paper, still came around most days, and he decided to enlarge my usefulness. He taught me the basics of taking pictures that would look good in the paper. I had to write my own headlines, do my own paste-up to fit my printed items in each of my society pages, and learn how to keep my viewpoints out of my articles. I got to write about the swim team, Ginger Rogers performing in “Hello Dolly” in Fresno, school board meetings and the library. I was never asked to write an editorial as no one seemed convinced a high school student had any opinions worth sharing. I hate to say it, but they were probably right.

Today more and more young people think news and books are online or streamed or are digitally available. But I like absorbing the news and that takes time. I can skim read and get the basics of most articles or columns, but I want to think and mull over the ideas and information I’m reading. No, I don’t spend six hours each day reading every word in the LA Times or the Coastal View News, but I pick and choose and try to keep up with the world, evaluate issues, find places to add to my travel list, and decide which movie I have to see next.

Now, as to which paper is the most important, I think locally it’s the community paper. In our case, the Coastal View News. How many Carpinteria families have cut out and saved a picture of their children that was printed in the Coastal View? How many letters to the editor have you read? How many Halos and Pitchforks have you mulled over? How many local issues have you chewed on and argued over because these issues were covered by local people? How many citizens have been honored because of their charitable deeds?

Let’s take a moment to raise a toast to our own editors and writers that work week after week on getting us the “scoop.” Leave it to Thomas Jefferson to supply me with a good ending quote, “Were it left to me to decide if we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Melinda Wittwer first moved to Carpinteria in 1972 and taught mostly junior high students in Oxnard during her 25-year career. Now retired, she enjoys pottery, writing, books and travel.

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