A nosedive into the archives

By Gary Lloyd

As many in this world stare through a social media windshield without so much as a blink, my eyes fixate on the rearview mirror.

So many folks take blue-check Tweets as gospel and offer acrimonious opinions based on inaccuracies, while I slide a new library card into my wallet. I had no idea that this new library card was a universal key to unlocking factual information, stories of the past and relics of journalism. I keep it in front of my Target RedCard. What a treasure.

If I had to swipe this library card like I do a Visa, it would fall short of its expiration date by three years. That little magnetic stripe would simply catch fire and probably burn my Levi’s. It has been magnificent to read past articles that predated Twitter, Buffer, Facebook, Bitly, Instagram, WordPress, TweetDeck, LinkedIn and probably a hundred more apps I don’t have space to rattle off here. To read these articles when they were timely, you had to have this thing called a newspaper subscription, or venture out, with a few quarters in your cup holder, to find a newspaper box.

I recently read a March 1994 article about Trussville foster parents; an August 1996 story about the Jacksons, 715 words about the Trussville couple’s qualification for the Guys and Dolls national fishing championship; and, of course, thousands of words under various headlines about the sinkholes that have long threatened to swallow Trussville, one street at a time.

There was a distinct difference in those stories that yellowed in newsprint decades ago and the ones that live forever on the Web today. They were hyperlocal. Detailed. Unique. Just in reading them, I could tell the reporters had to dig for the story ideas, dig deeper for meaningful questions, and type out a story worth reading. These days, the focus is often generating a three-paragraph Web story, sometimes via an iPhone, to drive clicks to a webpage covered in ads for Vrbo homes in North Carolina and $2,000 exercise bikes.

I’d like to say I miss those golden days of journalism, before apps transcribed interviews for you and backpacking to city council meetings with a tripod was part of the job, but the truth is that I began my journalism career at the ascent of social media. I took fuzzy photos of Julio Jones from the Bryant-Denny Stadium press box and posted them on Twitter. I post almost all my stories on Facebook and Twitter, because it’s where potential readers now live.

I have Tweeted more than 53,000 times since I joined in 2009. The math works out to more than 320 Tweets per month on average, or about 10 per day. That pace has slowed considerably, because the older I get, the more I want to dive deep into stories and books. I have a bookshelf overflowing with forgetfulness and procrastination.

The online archives I discovered have sent me down a journalistic sinkhole of sorts, and I’m grateful for the merging of 30-year-old journalism with current technology. It has inspired me to go deeper in my reporting and writing.

After all, as one of the March 1994 articles was headlined, “Sinkholes are fact of life in Trussville.”

Gary Lloyd is the author of six books and a contributing writer to the Cahaba Sun.

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