The printed page can never be replaced

Tucked in the northwestern corner of the Tribune Chronicle’s second-floor newsroom in our downtown Warren headquarters is a small room that we in the news business affectionately call our “morgue.”

Lining one wall are rows of wooden cubbies designated 1 through 31, corresponding with the days of the month, where we stack back issues of Tribune Chronicle print editions from the preceding few months. The room also contains microfilm of newspaper editions dating back more than 200 years, sometimes used by reporters to access background or perspective when writing stories today. Of course, we also use the microfilm to gather the information for our popular “This Week in History” column compiled weekly by reporter Emily Earnhart, published Sundays.

For a period ending in the 1990s, the newspaper also employed a full-time librarian who clipped and folded articles, placing them in 5-x-7-inch envelopes categorized by subject and filing them away in cabinets that also still line the walls of our morgue.

Now that most of our stories are published online for posterity, I find myself using those stockpiles of past print editions less and less when I need to access a story from past days or weeks. Still, I sometimes find myself holed up in the morgue searching through those drawers of yellowed clips to find background for stories that existed before we introduced our web edition a few decades ago or before our internal electronic library was created in 1994.

Young employees that come to work in our newsroom often are baffled at what they view as incomprehensible or inefficient use of sometimes crumbling files. (These are the same people who probably can’t understand why I prefer the touch and smell of the latest John Grisham novel I’m currently reading by turning the paper pages of an actual hardcover book, rather than read a digital version on an electronic device.)

There’s just something about the yellowed, archived pages of an aged newspaper that always makes me feel nostalgic. You may agree that memorable clippings tucked away in drawer are just viewed differently — perhaps more affectionately — than digital articles copied from a newspaper website to a computer hard drive or portable flash drive to revisit later.

That was never so apparent than last week when I received an email about a man we photographed shoveling snow. The photo of Derek Sumner, a Warren City Schools teacher, was shot by longtime Tribune Chronicle photographer Mike Semple digging out his car at his Warren home Monday, a day that school was canceled due to inclement weather.

After the photo ran, I received a jubilant email from Sumner’s father, Michael, commenting that amazingly the Tribune Chronicle had photographed his son more than 20 years ago, playing in the snow at age 4. That photo was shot by then-Tribune photographer Paula Artman.

Another member of the Sumner family, Shannon, later emailed me a photo of that yellowed newspaper clip of the 4-year-old Derek building a snow fort. The 1996 clip had been tucked away and saved by the family all these years.

I’ve often heard from readers about clips they’ve kept, or that they’ve found tucked away when a loved one passes away.

Only in the print edition can you clip wedding announcements, coverage of important events, obituaries, birth announcements, high school athletes or photos like the one of young Derek Sumner building his snow fort.

In a large plastic bin under my bed are editions of various newspapers covering things like the 1977 flood in my hometown of Johnstown, Pa.; obituaries of my grandparents; my 1995 wedding announcement; and birth notices for my sons.

And of course, there’s newspaper coverage of past Super Bowl victories by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As the digital age grows, there is no doubt the newspaper industry will change and adapt with it. But despite new efficiencies that come with online publication, my preference always will remain the printed pages.