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Ages of Argus

by Jay Nordlinger

On newspaper names and other media pleasures

Not long ago, I had occasion to be in Tulsa, and took a walk downtown. I passed the Tulsa World building — and was struck by the name: the “World.” What a wonderful name for a newspaper. It is broad and bold. It suggests, “We are inclusive of the world, and attuned to it.”

The newspaper was founded in 1905, two years before Oklahoma became a state. It’s one thing for a newspaper in Paris — glittering, consequential Paris — to call itself the “World.” (I am speaking of Le Monde.) But humble, early-20th-century Tulsa? Sure, why not? There is something very American about that name.

America is chock-full of newspaper names, and they are dying — the newspapers, that is. Will the names die with them or survive online? All of this is yet to unfold. Furthermore, we have a steady stream of new publications, born online, not transferred. They, too, can be creative, or interesting, in their names.

Newspaper names contain distinctive words, whose meaning may have become obscure. What’s an “argus”? That would be Argus, the hundred-eyed giant of classical myth. It sees everything. “Argus” is also the name of Odysseus’s dog. How about “intelligencer”? An intelligencer is someone, or something, that conveys information. We also have heralds, sentinels, monitors, advisors, advocates, criers, tattlers, reveilles . . .

That last implies “Good morning! Wake up! Rise ’n’ shine! Look sharp!”

How about “bee,” as in the Sacramento Bee? The name does not refer to the insect but to a community gathering, as in a sewing bee or spelling bee. But things are different in De Queen, Ark. There, the newspaper is called — what else? — the “De Queen Bee.” The image of a bee rests inside the “u” of “Queen.”

There are other fun names dotting America, such as the “Tombstone Epitaph.” And the “Nugget,” up in Nome, Alaska. (There was a gold rush there in the early 1900s, when the Tulsa World was getting started.) In Drumright, Okla. — oil country — they have the Gusher. The tiny town of Independence, Va., has the Declaration. Santa Cruz, which is a little bit psychedelic, to say the least, has the Good Times.

In Laramie, they read the Boomerang. This name is a natural for Australia. More natural for Wyoming would be something like the “Lasso.” But the founder of the newspaper, back in 1881, had a mule named “Boomerang,” so . . .

Some names are fun, and some names you make fun of. In northwestern Michigan, the Traverse City Record-Eagle is sometimes known, by locals, as the “Wretched Eagle.” In Texas, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is the “Startlegram.”

Mark Twain had some fun in his short story “Journalism in Tennessee.” He talks of the “Morning Glory and Johnson County War-Whoop.” In real life, there is a “War Cry” — the newspaper of the Salvation Army. Twain also talks of the “Semi-Weekly Earthquake,” the “Thunderbolt and Battle Cry of Freedom,” and the “Morning Howl.”

Another excellent fictional name appears in Green Acres — yes, the sitcom of yore. Residents of Hooterville (Hootervillians) read the Hooterville World-Guardian. In The Bank Dick, W. C. Fields’s character reads the Lompoc Picayune-Intelligencer.

The most famous Picayune in real life, of course, is the New Orleans Times-Picayune, born in 1914. That was the year the Picayune merged with the Times-Democrat. The original Picayune began in 1837 and cost a picayune — a picayune being a Spanish coin, worth a little more than six cents.

Newspaper names have a license to be eccentric, which brings up a paper near Detroit: the Birmingham Eccentric. A little farther south, Toledo has the Blade. Why? Because the Toledo in Spain was a swordsmithing capital. In Texas, Lubbock has the Avalanche, or, thanks to a merger, the Avalanche-Journal. There are not avalanches in West Texas. Nor in Des Moines, which also had an Avalanche.

In Central Illinois, they have the Pantagraph. The name reaches into Greek, suggesting “Write all things.” In Central Missouri, they have the Unterrified Democrat — “Serving Osage County Since 1866.” That’s one year after the Civil War. That name is highly suggestive. By the way, locals call the paper, simply, the “UD.”

New Braunfels, Texas, has German roots, as can be seen in the name of its newspaper, the Herald-Zeitung. That second word is simply the German word for “newspaper.”

Possibly my favorite newspaper name is in Youngstown, Ohio: the “Vindicator.” For short, it’s the “Vindy” (even as in Philadelphia the Inquirer is the “Inky”). Also, it’s hard to beat the name of the paper to the northwest, in Cleveland: the Plain Dealer. Plain dealing is what many of us want in a newspaper.

They have slogans, too, newspapers do, or did — slogans are becoming ever fewer. The most famous is the New York Times’: “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” If you find a glaring omission in the paper, you cite this slogan, in bitter mockery.

Incidentally, the paper in York, Neb., is the York News-Times. Makes you dizzy for a second. Also incidentally: New York City has small newspapers, covering different neighborhoods, and that includes a paper serving two neighborhoods in Manhattan: Chelsea and Clinton (also known as “Hell’s Kitchen”). The name of that paper, of course, is the “Chelsea-Clinton Times.”

Perhaps the presidential daughter would like to buy it?

In 2006, the presidential son-in-law — or future presidential son-in-law — bought the New York Observer. I mean Jared Kushner. The slogan of the paper was “Nothing Sacred but the Truth.” But the paper adopted something less high-minded: “Money, Power and the City.” After a few years, it reverted to the sacred bit.

The Wall Street Journal’s slogan is “The daily diary of the American dream.” I like it, except for this: Diaries, by definition, are daily, so the slogan is marred by redundancy. It does have alliteration, however, with those three ds. The ear loves alliteration.

The Washington Post has a new slogan, and it, too, is in 3-D: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Speaking of darkness, the slogan of the Detroit News can be construed as ominous, though they don’t mean it that way: “We Know Where You Live.”

Rick Brookhiser told me about the slogan in his hometown, Rochester, N.Y. For years, the Democrat and Chronicle had a verse borrowed from Lord Byron, in his Don Juan: “Without, or with, offence to friends or foes, I sketch your world exactly as it goes.”

That’s awfully good, but you’ll really like the slogan of the Aspen Daily News: “If you don’t want it printed, don’t let it happen.” But for my money, the best in the country is in Mississippi, home of the Itawamba County Times: “The Only Newspaper in the World That Cares Anything About Itawamba County.”

Question: Will newspaper slogans transfer to the Web, or will new (online) publications boast slogans? It seems not.

The first online publication I ever heard of was Slate. We called it a “webzine” (playing off “magazine,” of course). Slate came along in 1996. Its name was short and snappy, and connoted writing. Some people thought the ’zine wouldn’t last, calling it the “Slatanic,” heading toward the iceberg of publishing reality. But reality was different: Slate is still going.

In 2008, Tina Brown, the English editor, founded a webzine of her own: the Daily Beast. The name comes from Scoop, Evelyn Waugh’s famous novel about journalism. One paper in that novel is the Daily Beast, and the unlikely star of that paper is William Boot, dubbed “Boot of the Beast.”

Max Boot, the (real-life) foreign-affairs analyst, doesn’t write for the Beast — the Tina Brown–founded Beast — as far as I know. But he probably should.

For names, the Web may like short and snappy, as in “Slate.” And “Vox.” And “Politico.” The Web also likes smushed-up names, such as “RealClearPolitics.”

You can find the Tulsa World on the Web, at www.tulsaworld.com. The De Queen Bee is at www.dequeenbee.com. The Tombstone Epitaph is at www.tombstoneepitaph.com. (That’s hard to read — isn’t it? — with that double-e in the middle.)

My hometown newspaper is the Ann Arbor News. There can hardly be a more straightforward name for a newspaper: the “News.” Online, you find it at www.mlive.com. MLive is a consortium of Michigan newspapers. The Birmingham Eccentric is online too. But you find it at www.hometownlife.com. HometownLife is a USA Today network.

All of this is well and good, but, you know: It’s not the same. Not the same as holding a newspaper, and seeing its name, and all of its quirks and nooks and crannies.

“It’s not the same.” Isn’t that the plaint of fogeys everywhere, always? It could even serve as a slogan.

And I might as well end with an admission, which is more like an obvious truth, a plain-dealing truth: The new media age is much better. Infinitely better, arguses or not. The Internet! Talk about an Argus!

A word from the National Review Store: To get Digging In: Further Collected Writings of Jay Nordlinger, go here.

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