My mom and I sat in the back of the room as he talked about Philadelphia, the Inquirer, and the state of newspapers as a whole. Not surprisingly, he lamented the decline of the relevance and financial feasibility of newspapers. (This was particularly prescient, since the internet hadn't yet hit it big.) This was when I first learned that the sale price of a newspaper doesn't even cover the cost of the newsprint. And he said that part of the problem was that the paper couldn't compete with television to grab the attention of the younger generation. He couldn't help but look at me when he said that, though, and I smiled back at him. He certainly had a point, as I was probably the youngest person in the room by 20 years.
I still love the newspaper. I read it every day, and have for as long as I can remember, even after Lopez left for another medium, and even during overnight camp. (The counselors were so upset at me for making them get me a paper every day, but really, how could they say no?) But I know that I buck the trend of my generation, getting most of my news from the radio and the paper, with the internet coming in third, and television and print magazines lagging far behind. Lopez was right; even more so with what the internet has become in the past decade. And The Inquirer announced recently that it was laying off about 30% of its staff in an effort to stay financially solvent. I tried to ignore the announcement, figuring that I wouldn't notice if a few copy editors or business managers lost their jobs.
And then the columnists started dropping. Jane Eisner, the former Editorial Page editor, and the first person other than a teacher who ever got me to think critically about politics, left a few weeks ago. Acel Moore, the only African-American perspective I've regularly had on city issues, left last week. And then today I opened the paper to see the biggest blow of all.
Sports have always come first for me, for better or for worse. I've written before about how important sports are to me, and how more than just providing entertainment, they can provide meaning. They can provide perspective, as they did for me in the days after September 11th. They provide a sense of history: especially for someone like me who can't really engage with the raw history, I can learn about the civil rights movement via Branch Rickey, or the cold war via Olympic hockey. But more than anything else, in a way I didn't quite realize until today, they provide poetry. The beauty of a good sports story does more for me than the best impressionist painting at the art museum. Struggles inspire me, achievements awe me, loss connects with me, and beauty silences me in a way that just isn't as powerful when not viewed through the lens of sports. And the man who best presented that to me, the best sportswriter in Philadelphia's history, the sports poet, retired today.
Bill Lyon was the first writer I recognized by name, even before Lopez. He was always on the front page of the sports section. His typical column was better than average, but may not have stood out from the rest. But at least once a month, consistently, he'd write a special one. Whether it was humor or human interest, whether it was about Lance Armstrong or about the disabled kid who got back on the football field for one more play, and especially when it was about an otherwise nondescript athlete or horse or national anthem singer, he said whatever he had to say, straight from the heart. And he was saying it to me; the column was written for an audience of one. He often made me cry, even when he was trying to make me laugh. And, probably more than anyone else, he was able to convincingly and regularly achieve a particularly difficult task. He made me appreciate beauty.
I lost a part of my childhood today, a part of myself today, in a way that the blogosphere will never come close to replacing.