Friday, June 23, 2006

Blogging about Hannibal, MO.


Our trip took us to Hannibal, Missouri. The town capitalizes on it's role as the hometown of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). Sitting beside the Mississippi, it was once an important town for shipping which catered to the westward traveler. When Clemens lived there, it was at its zenith --- second only to St. Louis in population at the time.

Today its a sleepy rivertown with a bunch of Mark Twain landmarks and "inspired attractions", it caters to family travelers. We stopped off at the Clemens house and the small section of restored homes that surround it. There is a nice museum which traces the author's life and writing, especially his writing about his Hannibal. Most of his famous characters, in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, were based on people he knew in town. We also visited the Mark Twain cave, just south of town. It's rocky passageways are interesting, nothing much had changed since my last visit, except you can't sign your name on the walls anymore.

My daughter wasn't too interested in the museum or cave. Unfortunately, she hasn't read his writing and has only seen the recent, poorly made, Disney Huckleberry Finn movie. She will be reading the book this year, so I hope she will get something out of the visit when the time comes.

What I found most interesting was the museum exhibit covering Clemens' life as a newspaper man. His brother and he started a small paper in the town which flopped, but it got him interested in the business. He traveled the world, including Hawaii, in the 1860's, when few people ever left there states. His writing was wonderful, always pointed and opinionated. His novels, like those of Dickens, grew out of his newspaper and magazine work.

Back in his day, there were many, many newspapers around the country. Each trying to lure an audience through news coverage and opinion. The entry into the newspaper business was low, so many different types of people went into the business --- with little or no training outside of how to operate a printing press. Certainly, there must have been incredible trash published at the time and also a lot of unread papers, but that era brought forth some incredible writers -- including Twain, Dickens and H.L. Mencken. But, as all these print voices consolidated, the variety became limited and what we call the Mainstream Media emerged. Currently, there are few large cities with more than one paper and those papers are mainly filled with copy from the new services.

It makes me wonder if today's Blogging Community is the new replacement for old style media. Blogs generally have a point of view and offer up a variety of stories -- some compelling some not. No one needs a journalism degree to blog, just the motivation to be heard. Most blogs have very few readers, but some like the Drudge Report, has millions. While many in the mainstream Media bemoan the entry of 'amateurs' into their field, I think it's healthy. A little bit of competition keeps everyone a little more keen. I bet Samuel Clemens would have blogged, if he could.

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