William Faulkner, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, foretold that "when the last dig-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, even then there will still be one more sound: that of man's puny and inexhaustible voice, still talking." Great cities, like great republics, cannot live without that talk, so they create senates and schools, pulpits and soapboxes, dozes of different places for man's endless chatter. A newspaper is a place, a forum for talk, and so is a university. When a forum like The Washington Star falls still, we all lose.
Those of us who live and work in similar and painfully builtr places of talk feel that hurt. Universities like newspapers are filled with chatter, serious, frivolous, gentle, harsh, unceasing. Like newspapers, they feel obliged in all that talk to make occasional sense. Put in kinder terms, both reporter and professor worry at substance, work to get to the facts, then know and share them. Neither university nor newspaper is thrall to dramatic image, neither is captive of any one moment, and both can tolerate the slow work of words that builds to clarity.
Newspapers like universities must search for balance, even though neither reaches objectivity asd often as it claims. When they wax partisan, both must have the grace to feel guilty. They are alike in a steady but not always effective care for style. Buth serve as platforms for the famous; Henry Kissinger at Georgetown and William Buckley at The Star. But both survive on the steady labor of professionals whose names, even when listed, are seldom household words.
Universities, of course, are allowed the full run of the past, can pick their leisurely way and have time for contemplation and self-correction. A newspaper has no such liberty, and even less time A deadlier difference is that universities survive if they stay solvent, while a newspaper must make money, must show a profit or die.
The death of a newspaper like The Washington Star is particularly sad for the District of Columbia. Few cities in the United States have good theater, good music, good museums and good restaurants. Very few have a good newspaper. Washington, perhaps because it is the nation's capital, was an exception and had two good newspapers. That gave all of us a double take at the reality that fascinates our town, the federal government; and at the equally if not more fascinating reality, the District itself. Now the District will keep its restaurants, music and theater, but will lose that second voice; gone too are the individual voices of reporters and editors whom it has heard and from whom it has learned about itself. It will miss a second "opened" page and a second editorial voice.
The death of The Star is a political loss, as the nation's capital becomes a "one-newspaper town." No one imagines that the doings of the federal government will go uncovered by other papers in New York and Boston and Los Angeles and Portland. But the District is the government's home town, and we who live here with it talk to it with a neighbor's freedom and a neighbor's care. Now, it must do without a voice that talked to and for and at and about this city for almost 130 years: ever since once of us citizens, Capt. J. B. Tate, with a flat press and $500, cranked out The Washington Star's first edition.
Others more competent than I can comment on our political loss. The gap I feel most is the spiritual one that takes me back to the likeness between newspapers and universities. Both are houses through which rings the commandment, "Thou shalt not bear false witness." Both must bear true witness in fact and theory, to present and past, before old and young. Both of them know in their bones how freedom, even their own, is constantly at risk. Both understand how thin a skin of civilty lies under man's backward glance into primitive terror; how quick the bright republics, when their citizens don't know and so can't care, come to confusion. Both press and academy are valuable (and vulnerable) because they speak out the ancient Jewish and Christian faith that the truth can indeed make and keep us free.
A newspaper shuts down. Fourteen hundred skilled and professional people lose each other and their jobs. The District loses a voice with 128 years of experience. We all lose a second opinion on our government, our sports, our city and ourselves. All this is real, but we lose much more. Taken whole, from headline to market report, stretched to the top of their being, to their very best, good newspapers like The Washington Star touch on the longer dream in Faulkner's Nobel speech. He urged the young writer "to leave no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking with any story is ephemeral and doomed -- love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice." At its best, The Washington Star showed us the best of ourselves. We are poorer for its going.