I have had several discussions recently with veteran journalists who, to a person, have predicted that the time is not so far off when the severely shrunken universe of print newspapers is going to consist mainly of the Gargantuans and the Lilliputians, i.e., big city dailies like the NY Times and the Washington Post and local weeklies like the Guntersville, (AL) Advertiser-Gleam and The Hartwell (GA) Sun. The argument is that only huge papers with the staff and technology to stay abreast of national and international news will be able to stave off online competition while local papers will be the only info source for the kind of stories that really matter on this side of the county line, but lose their legs quickly the farther out you go.
I think there's a lot of wisdom in this prediction, although I really can't imagine why people would be interested in reading some pinko in Manhattan or wonk in Washington, when they can get reports like the following from my hometown paper, the aforementioned Hartwell Sun. About once a decade or so, it seems, local boosters build up a head of steam and, arguing that Hartwell (Pop. 4,000 and change) will never develop to its full potential unless folks can walk into a local restaurant and order a "Jack and Ginger," they manage to get the proverbial “liquor by the drink” on the ballot. Actually, just outside town, the Waterfall Grille at Cateechee Golf Club already pours strong drink through some legal loophole the local clergy and their minions who preach “teetotalin is God’s way, our way, and therefore the only way” have not yet managed to plug. Predictably, this crowd is already out in force for yet another battle with the sinister forces of John BarleyCorn, and the result is human drama at its best--reported and largely unedited at its small town newspaper best. The following are snippets from the report on the Hartwell City Council’s deliberations on this issue:
Council members became potential scapegoats for the evils of alcohol after voting to approve a resolution calling for a special referendum election regarding the sell of distilled spirits by the drink at the Sept. 4 meeting….
The Rev. Steve Williams, president of the Hart County Ministerial Association, presented a resolution signed by 11 others ministers that stated, "... in order to protect the citizens of Hartwell and Hart County from the further social ills of alcohol that the Hartwell City Council refrain from promoting the increased use of alcohol. ... Be it further resolved, that this body encourages the Hartwell City Council to vote down any resolution that could lead to the further legalization of liquor in our community."
If it did go on the ballot, Williams said congregations would hear a lot of sermons about the issue which would filter to the council members through the citizens. (You can bet your last fifth of George Dickel on that.)
For the ministers, the issue is a moral one.
"I believe, in my business anyway, we deal with eternity, and how you're going to leave things behind," Williams said. "I can't image [editor on break, apparently] you six representatives from our community would want to leave behind that you legalized the consumption of alcohol, that you want to stand before the graves of individuals and say 'I helped make sure that person could get there because I legalized alcohol by the drink in my community.'"
Not totally intimidated, the wets counterattacked with the old economic argument:
By not having liquor by the drink, local businessmen are forced to entertain out-of-town guests in Anderson, S.C [20 miles away]., said Tom Hable. If the people decide to vote for the issue, it will help provide more jobs and other "mighty fine things."
Realizing that money talks and apparently adopting the state line as the outer boundaries of his Christian concern for others who might suffer the tragic consequences of overindulgence, one of the “drys” resorts to logic:
Statistics show drunk drivers kill someone within the first two miles of driving, said Randy Banister.
He also pointed out if someone traveled to Anderson to get drunk they would kill someone in South Carolina instead of Hartwell.
Tying the ribbons on the anti-liquor crowd’s case, Bannister’s pastor weighs in:
The Rev. Mike Griffin said the council could not be like Pilot and wash their hands [editor also still “washing hands,” I guess] of the issue by giving the people permission to do what they want, but should instead follow the Barney Fife philosophy and "nip it, nip it, nip it."
Agree with him or not, ol' Pastor Mike is pretty clever in invoking a beloved southern public servant who would have felt entirely at home in Hartwell. The truth is, for all my funnin’ around, I feel very pleased to be from a place where Barney would be comfortable, and if, in the future, he ever decides to leave that great Mayberry in the sky long enough to pay us a visit, I would love to buy him a drink, provided of course, he doesn’t mind riding over to Anderson.