The best journalism touches the soul of a nation or of an individual reader. Sometimes, the best journalists can do both. From Emporia, a small town in Kansas, William Allen White built a reputation that drew presidential candidates to his door. He also captured the rays of light that can illuminate memory and shine through a father’s grief.
This weekend, we attended a memorial service for a friend who died at age 21. The clergyman ended with this quote from White’s editorial on the death of his daughter, Mary:
A rift in the clouds in a gray day threw a shaft of sunlight upon her coffin
as her nervous, energetic little body sank to its last sleep. But the soul of
her, the glowing, gorgeous, fervent soul of her, surely was flaming in eager
joy upon some other dawn.
The stories, music and poetry at the memorial stirred many memories for all of us. I thought of another White quote, about the importance of telling those stories and the importance of substance over form:
Of course as long as man lives someone will have to fill the herald’s place.
Someone will have to do the bellringer’s work. Someone will have to tell the
story of the day’s news and the year’s happenings. A reporter is perennial
under many names and will persist with humanity. But whether the reporter’s
story will be printed in types upon a press, I don’t know. I seriously doubt
it. I think most of the machinery now employed in printing the day’s, the
week’s, or the month’s doings will be junked by the end of this century and
will be as archaic as the bellringer’s bell, or the herald’s trumpet.
New methods of communication I think will supercede the old.
Allen White, April 21, 1931
in a personal letter to Lyman B. Kellogg