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So much remains the same.

We're still writing about Palestine, trade, a Democratic president, and a Republican Congress.

What is remarkable about the world in the first week of May 1947 is both how different it is from May 1996, and how much it is the same.

When NCEW was formed, opinion writers were weighing in on the new divisions of power in post World War II. The "Palestine problem" (as it was called then) was a top consideration, and the fate of the yet-unborn Israel was debated before the United Nations.

Editorialists were also writing about the trials of Nazi war criminals and a growing international trade market, which would result in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Nearly a half-century later, editorial writers opine on the new world order in the post-Cold War era. Israeli/Palestine relations (albeit in a diametrically different form) still remain a top concern. Other editorial page topics include the trials of Bosnian war criminals and the boom in international trade, which has resulted in the World Trade Organization, a spin-off of GATT.

In May 1947, President Truman produced much editorial fodder as a Democrat up against a Republican-dominated Congress. Republicans were intent on slashing the budgets for the State, Commerce, and Justice departments and passing the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act.

President Bill Clinton serves today under similar circumstances, and the GOP-controlled Congress has goals remarkably similar to the Congress of nearly a half-century ago.

A very notable difference in topics between then and now is the smoking habit. Tobacco companies, flagellated by today's editorial writers, no doubt long for the good old days in 1947 when smoking was endorsed by some doctors, and Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall puffed away in the movies.

Topics aside, the format of editorial pages has changed only minimally in 49 years. We have more graphics, but the pages then and now are made up of editorials, columns, letters to the editor, and political cartoons. The elements that make good persuasive editorials today are the same as in 1947.

Graphics didn't exist

In May 1947, newspapers were still the primary source of information for the public. Front pages typically had 20-25 stories. They had no color and only limited photos. Graphics didn't exist.

Because the typeface was smaller, a typical front page had nearly as much information as in the entire first sections of papers in May 1996.

Forty-nine years ago, stories were written as if the reader were familiar with yesterday's edition, and had little repeated information. Radio still had a minimal influence on newspaper presentation. Television, not yet a household word, had virtually no effect at all.

In May 1996, the typical newspaper's front page had four or five stories, lots of color, large pictures, and plenty of eye-catching graphics. Stories typically repeated information from previous days for the benefit of readers who didn't read the newspaper daily.

The transformation was forced by broadcasting, and especially television. Today, more people rely on television as a primary information source, and newspapers must fill in details, analyze the news, and cover issues that television doesn't, especially regional or local events.

A few stories get prominent play with out-takes so that people can get the news in a glance, much the same as with television. Newspapers are different, but not necessarily better.

On the horizon is a new information source - the Internet and its capabilities of instant worldwide communication. Personal computers will force changes not only in newspapers, but also in broadcasting. How is the unknown, just as it was with broadcasting in 1947.

Newspaper opinion pages. however, are not likely to succumb.

NCEW member Kay Semion is editorial page editor of The Ann Arbor News in Michigan.
COPYRIGHT 1996 National Conference of Editorial Writers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:editorials then and now
Author:Semion, Kay
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Sep 22, 1996
Words:614
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