Extra, Extra!

Like many academics, I moved far from my previous “home” town to a new town for a tenure track position.  It was a town I had never heard of  in a state I had never visited.  But I was young, carefree, and adventurous, ready to move far, far away from the live in lover who was not quite working out–and yes, I had an offer of a tenure track job. I figured if I hated it, I’d keep looking. 

As soon as I arrived in this unknown town in this unfamiliar state, I subscribed to the local newspaper.  I didn’t even think before I did this: As I do whenever I move to a new place, I signed up for mail delivery, garbage collection, phone service (this was before cell phones, dear youngsters), the cheapest cable package available (the only way to get more than 1 fuzzy channel), electricity, water, and yes, the local newspaper.

I’m not saying it’s the best newspaper I ever read (I lived in Brooklyn before this town, and had a lovely grad-student-priced subscription to the New York Times, so the contrast was, let’s say, brutal), but it’s the only paper in town that reports local events, news, gossip, etc.  I also get statewide news, and news from the Big City (now I know how upstate New Yorkers must have felt reading the Times).  Everyone arrested for DUI is listed in the next day’s paper (!) along with missing cats and dogs.   News about the College is reported (usually inaccurately, but still).  Historical tidbits are compiled each week (the local lawyer who plays Santa in the “Holiday” parade has been doing so for 20 years!).  

After a few years, a weekly alternative paper began publication, and I get that, too (heck, it’s free), so now I know even more about this formerly unknown town in this formerly unfamiliar state.

So everytime something happens in town and I begin to discuss it with colleagues from the College, and they have NO IDEA what I’m talking about because they do not 1. read the local newspaper or 2. watch the local news, I am truly, painfully appalled by and embarrassed for them.  And yet, they don’t seem embarrassed. Not in the least.  Some of these colleagues have lived in this little town for as many as 8 years, yet were totally surprised that yesterday was the big Holiday Parade downtown or that a local politician did some of the naughty or that there was a big article about the College on news that the president hadn’t exactly shared with us yet.

Not even mildly ashamed for not knowing any of that.

I just can’t imagine living in a town, knowing you will probably spend a big part of your working life in that town, and not giving  a damn about what is happening in town.  

This isn’t true of all of my colleagues, of course, but more than enough of them have absolutely no curiosity of anything happening in the town to which they contribute a serious chunk of taxes each year; a town that contributes to the fiscal viability of the College; a town where many of our students were born and reared.

Am I missing something?

13 responses to “Extra, Extra!

  1. Peeple today are more in the knowz about celeb teevee stuff than they are about events that change world history or happen on their block. Growing up, we got 2 newspapers and watched local and national news with *real* journalists. I cringe at the *anchors* on local news, and only watch Katie Couric every now and then. CELEBS ARE NOT NEWS. grrrrrrr.

    Soon I’ll be hollering GETOFFAMYLAWN! in my fuzzy robe and bunny slippers from the driveway pumping my iphone up in the air.

  2. I suppose you’re right that this is a sign of the times in general: interestingly, these colleagues range in age from late 20s to late 50s, so it’s not a generational thing.

    You do raise a good point: I, too, grew up with two newspapers and my parents listened to the news on the radio regularly, so perhaps THAT is the difference?

    And JC, I love that image: the bunny slippers, the iphone, growling at the kids playing ball on your lawn. Ha! (I can see me there, too, but with a drink in hand, hair in a bandana or something).

  3. I get the local newspaper, too, and FWIW, my colleagues seem pretty engaged in the affairs of the town where Northern Clime U is located. There are things in the newspaper that you’d never know from watching the local news (not that I do), especially about arts events.

  4. Undine,

    I may be overstating just how many colleagues don’t follow local happenings (and the art/music professionals and devotees are definitely NOT included in that group, for obvious reasons, though even among that group, they don’t always learn about the non-art/music/theatre happenings in town).

    Our college has a community service requirement for promotion and tenure, and it’s one of the most contested requirements partly because the service needs to be at least somewhat related to your area of expertise and/or require working in a leadership role within the community. Perhaps those that most protest the requirement are deliberately ignoring local events as part of their protest?

    But damn, aren’t they curious??

  5. Hm. I grew up with two newspapers & radio on much of the time at home, so maybe it’s an act of rebellion to read the Sunday NYT and ignore the news the rest of the time. I often think it’s odd that the same types of political interactions that interest me greatly if they’re in the fourteenth century leave me yawning if they’re current events. I’m glad somebody takes an interest, though.

  6. Inky: So which one: New York magazine? The Times online? I subscribe to the former and read the latter online: can’t help it. BUT, I also read local news, however mundane.

    And Eleanor–thank you for respresenting the news-less: my colleague, another Eleanor in Medieval Lit–she can recite in Old English news from the 14th century but didn’t know that a major highway was being planned practically outside her front door, so she missed all opportunity for comment at the city council meetings…..

    I know such things can be boring (actually ARE to me, especially since said highway is miles from my house) but if it were in front of my house? I’d want to know, you know?

    I think I’m like JC, yelling at the kids in my bathrobe. Most of the time, you’re right: the local news is dull, gossipy, uninteresting. So why does it bug me that others don’t know it?

  7. I don’t know about my colleagues’ reading habits but I’ve encountered the same intellectual snobbery in my department. Lots of academics cultivate this attitude of disconnectedness — particularly if they get jobs in what they perceive as the sticks — presumably telling themselves, “I don’t have to get involved here because I’m just passing through — I don’t belong in this backwater and any day now I’m going to get a bigger, better job in a bigger, better city …” At least, that’s how I interpret their actions/attitudes.

    For the record, I don’t read the local rag because it’s a hideous newspaper — really, it’s terrible — and I don’t watch the local news in an effort to cut down on how much time I spend watching TV (I used to watch it every morning — but, hey, now I’m busy blogging!). And, yes, I do subscribe to the NY Times. So, I guess I’m precisely the creature I’m describing above. Sigh.

  8. BS Girl: I do know colleagues who are clearly not here for the long term, and frankly, I’m not even thinking of them. They so clearly express their disdain for our town that it’s obvious why they don’t pay attention to local news.

    So I’m thinking only of those who are now tenured, who are obviously sticking around, who own homes, have kids, etc. So yes, maybe someone like you. (And I greatly appreciate that you are speaking for those I don’t understand.) I DO understand a bad local paper (perhaps offer to write an article or editorial?) and bad local tv news, but are you ever a little discombobulated when you are asked to vote on a local issue and you have no idea what it’s about? or when you see a new building going up and you have no idea what it could be? Or if you see a parade going by and don’t realize that it’s a 100 year old tradition and that peoples’ dogs (not unlike your own dog) are the star of the parade?

    I think I’m feeling in the minority on my campus, but I shouldn’t: people actually come to me to ask ME what that new building downtown is, or who Big Wig Local Politician Is, etc etc. We have plenty of people in this town who are engaged citizens, and even some of my colleagues take part in local events and issues. So it’s not a disaster by any stretch that other colleagues want to focus only on our campus as their world.

    But I can’t help thinking….

    The people in our community pay taxes that help pay our salaries, that help build our new buildings; the people in our community donate to the college’s Foundation which helps some students with tuition and books. I suppose I don’t want to be that City on a Hill and ignore them. I suppose I don’t want to retire in 20 years and realize that I spent a large chunk of my adult life in a town I know nothing about.

  9. Ok, not only did I make my mom cry this month, but my Internet peeps are hanging their heads in shame, which really really really wasn’t my intention with this ranty posting. I just wanted to rant here rather than attack a friend/colleague in RL.

    It’s not like we all don’t have ENOUGH to read, I know, I really know.

    But then I saw this video which effectively portrays at least some of Palin’s supporters as absolute morons, and it made ME cry because, ya know, I don’t know her policies either: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKKKgua7wQk

  10. Annie Em, it’s *that time of the year*, the hap. hap. happiest time of grading. You’re not a guilt machine. I’m glad that people go to YOU when they want to learn about something.

    A politician running on the last ballot was in the hall while I was in line to vote. I didn’t know people ON the ballot were allowed in the voting area, but the politician went down the line shaking hands. I HAD NO CLUE WHO THIS PERSON WAS. NONE. When I got to the voting machine, I STILL didn’t know looking at the list of names. When I got home, I googled pictures of the people I voted for. Turns out I voted for the hand-shaker. It’s funny because I did all this research on who to vote for, even made myself a little cheat sheet of names, but I never paid any attention to what the people look like. I didn’t watch the ‘election coverage’ on the local news because it was sickening. It seems my preference has changed to googling the info I want rather than having to sift through all kinds of crap looking for useful nuggets presented by anchors and editors.

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