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posted: 9/13/2012 5:00 AM

New language might have helped tame the Old West

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I'm sure it must have been a dream.

I was a young writer fresh from J-school and heard about the trouble in Shinbone. I strode into the newspaper office and got the attention of the editor. He was a small man, balding, with round wire-rim glasses, garters gripping the upper arms of his shirt sleeves and a sour look on his face.

"I want to help," I said. "It's what newspapermen do, right? Combat bullies who want to rule with force rather than the law."

He looked at me skeptically from underneath a green eyeshade, one eyebrow raised, scanning me from head to toe.

"You got no idea what we're dealin' with here," he spat. "Liberty Valance would as soon shootcha as look atcha."

"But we can't let him get elected to the statehood committee," I protested. "People wouldn't allow it if they knew what he's really all about."

The editor, Dutton Peabody, cackled a high-pitched, raspy laugh.

"And how do you propose to tell them, young fella?" he smirked.

I saw my chance. Thoughts flew out of me like shells from a gattling gun.

"OK, Mr. Peabody," I started. "Here's what we can do. First, do you have a laptop here I can use?"

"A what?" He looked around the sparse wood-framed room, smelling of iron and ink and oil from the large printing press just behind his desk.

"A laptop. I have my iPhone with me. It'll be fine if I can get a signal out on the prairie, but it would be much easier to write if I could put a thumb drive into a laptop and use a satellite feed to hook up to the web."

Peabody squinted his nose and glared suspiciously.

"What country you from anyway, boy?" he asked. "You don't look or sound Mexican, but you sure ain't American."

"No, seriously," I persisted. "I'll go out and see what Valance and his men are up to. Then I'll get a Wi-Fi link at Starbucks and feed you some text you can edit from your PC."


"What? Do you use Macs? I can deal with that too." I was finding it hard to contain my imagination.


"Whatever," I said. "I have apps on my smartphone that can work from almost any platform. I'm thinking we could post something on Facebook first, then I'll send out regular tweets on Twitter until I can get a full story together. We should do some background, too. I'll Google him to see what kind of record he has."

"I don't know who or what you are, mister," Peabody growled, "but I'm about to kick your butt."

His hands were forming into fists clenched tightly at his side, but I was too excited to notice.

"Yes, you're right!" I exclaimed. "We need to Storify this thing. We can grab posts, graphics, photos and videos from all over the Valley. I'll create an avatar and throw something up on Pinterest. We'll scrape stuff from the whole pantheon of social media. Commenters will be able to say whatever they want about Valance and we'll harvest it all -- as long as they're civil, of course. Shoot, we'll have so much interactive content, that outlaw won't know what hit him."

"You won't either, buddy," Peabody grumbled. He grabbed my shoulders with both his scrawny hands, twisted my body around and rushed me toward the door, sending me sprawling into the street with a firm boot in the back side. I stared up as the door rattled shut behind him. My eyes and mouth and hands were filled with dust.

"Think about it," I pleaded. "It could be amazing. And there's this great song on iTunes ..."

I began to sing, "He shot Liberty Valance. He shot Liberty Valance. He was the greatest of them ah-ahlll ..."

"I'm telling you we'll make Rance Stoddard a national hero."

"Shut up or I'll shoot you where yer layin'." His voice was muffled through the slammed wooden door.

"All right," I thought to myself, "but you better look out. If Valance comes back with his men, there could be trouble."

And, yes, now I know this must've been a dream, but if I remember the movie right, Valance and his boys did make trouble for the press.

And then, Mr. Peabody, remember what the reporters said after Sen. Stoddard told them the truth about who killed Liberty Valance? Your way, there may be nothing to print but the legend.

Jim Slusher,, is an assistant managing editor for the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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