From republic to romance: Saving the USPS will preserve essential communication

Oct 1, 2020



Newspapers and post offices have partnered for this nation’s general welfare since long before their joint role in providing post-Revolutionary Americans the details they needed to ponder and ratify our Constitution in 1788. They’ve made and preserved marriages; they’ve gone from horses to trains to airplanes to get information to readers. The Postal Service remains America’s most popular public institution.

After delegates approved the draft constitution in Philadelphia in 1787, a prominent lady asked Benjamin Franklin if it provided a monarchy or republic.

“A Republic. If you can keep it,” he replied.

Did he imagine that keeping it in 2020 would require battling critics who deride print publications as “ink on dead trees” and the Post Office as a dinosaur, despite the Post Office having a 91% favorable rating, highest of any government agency, while all generations prefer physical books?

British rule, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution all required a nationwide Post Office funded by fees and general taxes (AOC, Art. 9; Const. Art. 1, Sec. 8). All three systems provided special newspaper rates and expedited service, recognizing the special role in the nation’s general welfare.

The Post Office and newspapers have also kept romances burning for years or decades, even though the lovers were separated by hundreds or thousands of miles.

Perhaps the most fascinating and certainly best documented is that of Betty Blake and Will Rogers (the leading movie, stage and radio performer; newspaper columnist; philanthropist; goodwill ambassador for three presidents and aviation proponent from the turn of the century to 1935).

They finally married in late 1908 after a chance meeting in 1899 at the Oologah, Oklahoma, train depot led to a courtship conducted almost entirely by mail from Post Offices around the world.

Letters often contained local newspaper clippings — hers from Arkansas or Oklahoma and his from wherever in the world he was performing that week. He wrote her multiple proposals, proposed multiple times in writing, finally winning her hand in late 1908. Their honeymoon to a myriad of places lasted well into 1909.

Rogers, scholar and historian Dr. Reba Neighbors Collins produced the book “Will Rogers: Courtship and Correspondence” with his sons decades after their parents died. Despite constant booking changes with addresses unknown to Betty, the Post Offices always found him — there’s no record of any of the hundreds of epistles vanishing.

Today, print newspapers and the Postal Service reach residents in areas where newspaper routes are impossible and 40 million American have no reliable internet access. Together, they keep citizens in touch with important community events, from births and deaths, new businesses or residents, to controversial changes in school or town policies, crime problems — and of course the really important news: How’s this year’s home team doing?

So what can publishers do?

As Gen. Creighton Abrams, the Army commander honored by the Abrams M1 Tank, said. “When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time.”

With Washington’s growing turmoil and rancor, solving problems that have built up over decades won’t be fixed in a single bill. So as an industry, we need to figure out which bites are most important or most available during each Congress.

Those working at our local Post Offices aren’t the problem. We’ve seen many chase a single postcard or letter blown out of the drive-through collection box, getting help from passersby. Such heroics serving citizens are worth an attaboy story or editorial.

In addition, keep in touch with your Washington delegation, especially the district office staffer. They want to hear from you as a community leader, and you want readers to repeat key editorial comments.

And don’t forget the Post Office as a tool of long-distance romance. Faith and I lived with it for five years since we met after signing irrevocable scholarships 600 miles apart. Amazingly, daily 6-cent Air Mail stamps kept us together, and we celebrated 50 years as a committed couple last April 15.

An entity that can do that is worth its weight in gold. And it is a product with such depth of coverage that people would rather get their information from reading over viewing or listening to the news. As security and privacy issues grow, online local news people will become less palatable.

Norah O’Donnell, a young Gen-Xer whose CBS Evening News reaches 6 million people daily, says her daily routine is “to get up early, read the papers, then work out before our first editorial call at 10.”

Rachel Maddow, top-rated prime-time anchor/investigative journalist at MSNBC, builds on local newspaper coverage, promotes it and works with the staff to turn superb local coverage into national bombshells.

“Ink on dead trees?” Maddow and O’Donell are TV rock stars. If they devour newspapers, we should promote our strength while the world’s TikToks and Facebooks lose credibility.

Perhaps that will rub off on USPS.

John M. Wylie II is the retired owner of the Oologah (Oklahoma) Lake Leader.