By Gilbert M. ‘Gil’ Savery
If you are thinking this splendid book is only about the Seacrest newspapers in Nebraska embracing new technologies and providing community service that would be diminishing its larger and more powerful message.
It is all that, but skillfully woven into the text is the importance of accurate, reliable news, so essential in creating a well-informed electorate to guide American democracy.
This reviewer feels a personal disclosure is important. I worked with and for four generations of the Seacrest family. That spanned 44 years starting as a police reporter and retiring as managing editor of the Lincoln Evening Journal. Be assured, this book accurately recounts the way in which the Seacrests edited and published newspapers they owned.
You will read of transition from handset letter-by-letter typesetting to Linotypes, paper-tape activation of Linotypes, and on through a multitude of changes that have brought newspapers to techniques of pagination, wonderful graphics and beyond.
The author quotes many persons – including competitors -- familiar with the multitude of civic involvements of Joe Rushton Seacrest. He immersed himself in the mechanics of publication, securing laws ensuring access to public records and public meetings for all citizens, not just news media. He was a leader in the legal battle to keep all courts open to the public and media.
Joe R. brought to the table service in the U. S. Navy, a degree from Yale and a law degree from University of Nebraska.
His education and enthusiasm to make his city, state and nation better are well documented. The author has emphasized the civic role that the very first of the family, Joseph Claggett Seacrest (known as J.C.), set for himself and his heirs. His sons, J. W. and Fred Seacrest, embraced his standards. As generations passed, Joe R., (J. W. Seacrest’s son) and Mark T. Seacrest (Fred’s son), guided the destiny of the Lincoln Journal and others acquired by the family.
The Great Depression of the 1930s drove the Nebraska State Journal, The Lincoln Evening Journal and The Lincoln Star to jointly sell advertisements, which appeared in each paper. They agreed to publish a combined paper one day a week -- The Sunday Journal-Star. It was a decision based on the need to remain afloat in troubled economic waters.
You learn of Joe R.‘s heavy involvement of removing the Rock Island Railroad’s track running through the center of Lincoln, his focus on health care, open meetings, open records, open courts and other issues vital to a growing capital city. Parks and recreation were notable Seacrest involvements.
It would be interesting, indeed, to see how Joe R. Seacrest would have dealt with all of the electronic gadgetry of today and how it has impacted not only newspapers, but all forms of mass communication.
Colburn writes of Joe R. Seacrest:
“He could see the electronic means of dissemination might take the place of paper, but he also saw the existing organization of newspapers. He recognized the training and experience of today’s editors and reporters as the raw materials of the future. He saw the Internet as a labyrinth of information and misinformation. What better people to navigate that labyrinth than the folks who made order out of chaos that comes into the newsroom every day, he wondered.”
Further, she writes: “He visualized some kind of delivery system that would allow a reader to print and read a news story, but also to click on an icon to get the rest of the story – previous stories filed in the newspaper’s archive, for example, or the transcript of an interview.”
A message comes through in this well-researched book that newspapers historically played important key roles in the development of Nebraska communities and that the Seacrests were outstanding models.
Persons familiar with today’s Internet and social media will learn from this book that providing information instead of misinformation is essential to public discourse. Journalism educators often refer to editors as gatekeepers – helping ensure relevancy and fairness. Seldom is that function applied in the social media.
“From Picas to Bytes” accurately recounts how one family of publishers and editors applied technologies – often a step ahead – while embracing—through four generations—a strong commitment to community service.
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