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May 27, 2008

A publication as the focus of a community

Nostalgists who adduce dominant print publications -- the New York Tmes in New York (or the country), the Washington Post in Washington, the Los Angeles Times in...; well, you get the idea -- as focal points of their communities are often dismissed as outmoded. The new Internet model democratizes cultural, or community, discourse, empowers millions of individual voices and deposes unworthy pontificators, those with little more authority than that granted by their accidental ownership of a byline.

Maybe, and it's easy for me to argue the other side since I spent my entire journalistic life writing for the dominant publication in whatever community I was working (Oakland, Los Angeles, New York).

Still, the other night I was enveloped by a microcosm of a community. It gathered in the library of the Century Association in midtown Manhattan, and it came to hear a reading by a fellow Centurion, Honor Moore, about her book "The Bishop's Daughter." From what I had read, and from what she said, it's a deeply felt memoir of growing up with her famous father, Paul, the beloved, arch-liberal Episcopal bishop of New York and, it turned out, a man with a hidden gay life.

What fascinated me, especially for the purposes of this blog, were the shared values of so many of those there. "These people must be either all Espiscopalian or all gay," I joked to a friend. "Or both," said she, and she's even more elderly than I, has her oil portrait hanging grandly at Harvard and is very likely Episcopalian, though very unlikely gay.

So one aspect of the community was that it was an upper-class one, members of a private club, Manhattan power brokers, conscious of their privilege. I am neither Episcoplain nor gay, and others in that room weren't either. But they still shared values, and a key value they shared was literary. What almost surely drew them was the same extensive excerpt from the book that the New Yorker ran a couple of months ago. Everyone there had seemed to have read it, myself included.

The Times does not really define all of New York as a community; its readership is upscale Manhattan, and national. The New Yorker appeals to an even more rarefied subset, within Manhattan and beyond. Yet hundreds of those people were in that room. They formed their own community, brought together by an article in a print publication. It made one (perhaps prematurely) sad that those kinds of focal points, those newspapers and magazines, may be in the process of dissolution by the wonderful, if atomizing, new technologies all around us.  

May 27, 2008 11:50 AM | | Comments (0)

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