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updated: 10/12/2011 4:32 PM

Talk with the Editor: The things that matter

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On the flight from Florida, I brought home a bag filled with pictures and scrapbooks that stretched across three quarters of a century.

The bag was one of those pieces of roller luggage made to maximize the allowable space for carry-ons. When I say filled, I mean filled. Not socks and underwear and lot of pictures. No, I mean nothing but pictures.

Following my flight, in a medium-sized flat-rate Priority Mail box, were reams of family documents and carefully clipped newspaper obituaries that stretched back even longer. The package was heavily insured even though no amount of insurance would replace it if it were lost or stolen.

I'd been in Florida for a week and a half helping to close up the house of my late father, and as we all realize at times like this, the things that matter aren't practical objects.

They're the pictures from over the years, some rare finds that you don't remember seeing before, the pictures of him with his parents that you want your grandchildren to see.

And they're the documents and yellowing obituaries that record not just his lifetime, but the lifetime of a family. I'd never known he'd kept all of that, in assorted file folders stored in assorted places around the house, but they became one of the trip's most precious discoveries.

I thought about whether to write about this, wondered whether it isn't a bit of self-indulgence that reveals more about my sentimentality than it does about newspapers. And I'm still not sure what the answer is to that.

But it strikes me that this is what we in newspapers do -- possibly in a way that is more permanent or at least more romantic than other segments of the news media. We record the history of our time. We give glimpses into people's lives. We help to pass along the stories of our era and who we are.

I wonder, will those pictures and clippings and documents mean as much if and when they all become electronic? They'll be more accessible and more organized probably, but will we or our descendants feel as connected to our roots when we see the glimpses of them on a screen instead of in print that you can touch and feel and hang on a wall?

The newspaper editor in me says, no, something of the soul of that kinship will be lost.


But then I remember the hand-held lap bag I carried at my seat on the plane.

It was packed with a half dozen old VHS tapes -- sights and sounds of Dad come to life, back in the day.

It turns out, the electronic and the print really do work together, I guess.

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