Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers both enjoyed success with the 1947 song “I Guess I’ll Get the Papers and Go Home.” It is a somewhat obscure song and I admit I had to reach to find it. I like to relate each of my columns to a song or a lyric. This song was written by writers completely unknown to me: Hughie Prince, Dick Rogers and Hal Kanner. In case you are wondering, it was not that Richard Rodgers, the prolific composer who enjoyed incredible success with Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II. Just plain old Dick Rogers, a long-forgotten singer. At least Hughie Prince did have another hit with the World War II anthem “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” “I Guess I’ll Get the Papers and Go Home” relates to a period in time when most folks got their news from the daily paper. I still do. I recognize that I am now among the few who still rely on that traditional source of daily news.
I have been looking into how people today get their news. In 2016, the Pew Research Center, one of America’s most reliable sources, published a report on news sources in the USA. Fifty-seven percent get their news from TV, 38 percent on line, 25 percent on the radio and just 20 percent from the papers. They also broke down the age demographics for each category. It seems the demographic group most interested in news are those 50 and up. While about half of those in the 18 to 29 age group get their news online, many admit to not getting the news at all. And only 5 percent of that group claimed to get the news from newspapers. In addition, the younger group expressed negligible interest in news magazines. The survey results hinted, but did not state outright, that a great number of those 18 to 29 are not really interested in the news at all. Across all demographics, the percentage of folks who find their news on a mobile device continues to rise each year.
In a separate finding, most Americans now preferred to watch their news rather than read it. And with that trend comes a number of problems. Accurate comprehension and retention of the news suffers, the possibility of false news increases, the creation of unreliable sources is easy, and failure to prioritize what news actually matters, are the most obvious problems.
There was one other finding I found disturbing. So many younger people (18 to 49) get their news, such as it is, not from news sources, but from friends and acquaintances. The survey indicated that the polarization the US is suffering from today is, in part, the result of these trends. As an older faithful reader of newspapers and news magazines, I find those trends more than a little disturbing.
Nevertheless, it is an item from a newspaper that is my subject today. On Friday, May 5, USA Today had an interesting item in the travel section. A professor from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University was interviewed by USA Today. Robert Gibbs, along with being a Harvard professor, is an urban planner, and he has traveled the country to study downtown areas and walking neighborhoods. In the interview, Mr. Gibbs identified 10 great shopping streets in America. Some were iconic shopping and walking streets in Savannah, Ga., Delray Beach, Fla. and Pasadena, Calif., which felt like obvious choices. There was no numerical order of relative attractiveness, but the second area of the 10 named was Chatham. Yes, our own tiny little Chatham and its shopping area, chosen as one of the 10 most outstanding in America. Mr. Gibbs is quoted as saying, “It’s the nicest and most authentic small town on Cape Cod.” He also notes the beach, working lighthouse and weekly band concerts and considers Chatham “very Norman Rockwell.”
As I often do, I cut out and saved this article. My house is full of unrelated articles I have saved over the years. Sometimes, when I discover a faded article years or even decades later, I can’t remember why it was of interest to me. This one will be easy. The article says Chatham has 300 shops and specialty stores offering all kinds of merchandise. I don’t know if anyone connected to town government could confirm the number 300, but for the past two weeks I have been driving around town noticing so many small businesses that prior to this article had escaped my notice. Maybe the chamber of commerce knows how many there are. Or maybe someone has made a list of all the shops. And before you call me to mention the seasonal nature of Chatham’s retail community, I realize so many only operate when the tourists and summer residents are in town. The seasonal nature of business here combined with very high rents are what makes survival so difficult for these small businesses. And it is my impression that many of the newer businesses are being run by younger people.
Several years ago, I wrote an article about the flight of young people from Cape Cod. It is well documented that the Cape has lost so many from the 25- to 44-year-old age bracket. Young families just could not afford to stay here with the lack of high-paying jobs and the high costs of housing. Who could blame those who were leaving? The continuous effort of trying to afford to live in Chatham was just too much.
My article at that time, while depressing, gave a hint of a hope for the future. It cited a trend just starting all around the country. People can work online now, detached from the big office and the large factory. They might work for themselves or for Apple or Google or whatever. Or they might decide to open a small business. Many of these people are single. This group is often better educated and more affluent than the norm. They have a degree of independence and tend to be entrepreneurial in nature. They have decided to live where they choose rather than have someone else dictate where they have to live. This group has flocked to the Bay Area of California, to Colorado and Nantucket among other meccas.
It is my impression that they are starting to arrive in Chatham. Why not Chatham? Since Professor Gibbs considers it one of the 10 most attractive downtowns in the country. Some will flourish and some will fail. In this era of large predatory businesses like Amazon, it is definitely an uphill struggle. But I firmly believe that these new businesses have something of value to offer the people of Chatham. I would encourage all of us to visit some new stores and some old stores right here in town. A little encouragement could go a long way. I believe you will be very enthused to find all that is available right here in our home town. Robert Gibbs found it. I think you will, too.