Sunday, November 7, 2010

Keeping History

The few months ago a friend turned me on to an amazing website called Old Fulton NY Post Cards. The site, as I learned recently from a blog called Digitization 101, is the work of a former IT executive named Tom Tryniski, who lives in Fulton. It's a labor of love that started out as a way to share his collection of vintage post cards. Along the way, Tryniski got the idea of digitizing old newspapers, and to date he has digitized more than 13.5 million historic newspapers from all over the State of New York. 

The site is an incredibly rich resource for those interested in the past, although it's not always easy to use. So far, I haven't discovered a way to search only the Hudson Daily Register, so any but the most carefully targeted search yields a slew of articles from the Brookyn Daily Eagle and other newspapers around the state which must be scrolled through before getting to the relevant stuff. Regular readers of Gossips will realize that I use this site often as a source for some of the historic items I publish. There may be a certain bias in some of the articles, readily recognized from a historical perspective, but one never questions the basic facts. Old newspapers are commonly accepted as reliable primary sources of information about the past, but will this still be true in the future?

In the case of the City of Hudson, the Register-Star seems a somewhat unreliable chronicler of our history. It can't be counted on to get names right or to quote people accurately, and a recent bit of revisionism, when the Register-Star reported that the Halloween Parade this year was the first ever to take place in Hudson, riled a number of people. One Gossips reader, who spent her childhood in Claverack in the 1940s, recalled that "there was a parade in Hudson every Halloween for children and adults from surrounding communities." The parade started at the Armory, where all parades originated in those days, and marched to Seventh Street Park, where prizes were awarded for costumes--funniest, prettiest, most original, etc. Another reader, whose son, now off at college, participated in Halloween parades in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which followed the same route as this year's parade, was similarly distressed that the newspaper could so facilely wipe out not only a well established Hudson tradition but also "the history of now-grown or nearly grown Hudson children." "If such a small detail can be erased and restated and printed and distributed," she asked, "what can happen to larger details?"

A little more than a year ago, The Wall Street Journal published an article celebrating the survival of the Register-Star and the Daily Mail while small-town papers across the country were folding: "Write Local: How Small Newspapers Are Surviving." The article stated what readers of the Register-Star already knew or had surmised: "There is no copy desk, and editing is scant." Executive Editor Theresa Hyland was quoted in the article as saying, "You hope you catch everything, but you don't." Readers can attest to that. 

The Register-Star's bare-bones, cost-cutting practices may be the formula for survival in tough economic times, but it doesn't seem to be a very good one for the preservation of local history. A century from now, what reliable primary sources will survive to tell future generations what happened in Hudson in this generation?     

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Carole for this site. As a genealogist and with ancestors who go back to 18th & 19th century New York, I'm busy searching and have found some wonderful illuminations already!