Letter from the Editor – Patchwork of Our Past

A Patchwork, Letter from the Editor

Houston HistoryAnnounces Exciting New Change to Partial Digital Format

By Joe Pratt

I hate computers. Reading page after page of dissertations and student papers on my computer has hastened the decline of my old eyes. Writing on a computer ranks up there with traffic jams on the Gulf Freeway on my list of things that plague my daily life. When I face a writing deadline, my computer takes great pleasure in holding me hostage with the threat of some new virus unleashed by a pre-teen starved for attention. If no viruses are available to eat my hard-drive, my computer simply sends me down some dark cyber alley where I am mugged by glitches I cannot escape. In short, computers hate me as much as I hate them.

I love the printed word in all of its published forms. Books, newspapers, and magazines have been central parts of my life. I take great pleasure in reading books, writing in their margins for future reference, holding them, smelling them. I still have almost every book I have ever owned, meaning that I have moved some of them cross country six or seven times. I look forward to rereading my favorites in retirement. The marginal notes will teach me about my younger self, and unexpected bookmarks made with photos or plane tickets or newspaper clippings will bring back places and times deeply buried in my memory. Why read a “book” in digital form and miss the joy of turning the pages of a real book?

I love newspapers. I have been fortunate at different stages of my life to live in major cities with once great newspapers: the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch,Baltimore SunWashington PostNew York TimesLos Angeles Times,Boston Globe, and San Francisco Examiner. I recall several glorious Sunday mornings long ago in Boston spent reading three of these papers. Sundays now bring sad reminders that newspapers are shrinking away as computers deliver news more quickly, more stridently, and less accurately. After pulling the ads from the Sunday Houston Chronicle these days, I am left with a paper roughly the size of the Port Arthur News I delivered on my paper route in the early 1960s. Surfing the internet is no substitute for the substance—ink smears and all—of a good newspaper; reading a newspaper on the internet is not the same as paging through the various sections and trading comments about important events with someone in the room with you.

Finally we arrive at magazines. My family did not subscribe to magazines as I was growing up, but barber shops did. There I read Sports IllustratedNational GeographicLife, and Newsweek. Relatives subscribed to the Readers’ Digest, an engaging mix of Americana, “It Pays to Increase Your Word Power,” and mediocre jokes. With money from my paper route, I bought MAD Magazine, which exposed me to a weirder sense of humor. A highlight of my magazine reading days came after I got out of the army and lived for a while in my deceased grandparents’ home in East Texas. I spent several very pleasant weeks looking through a big stack of old Life magazines from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, which Grandma Pratt had stashed in her wash house. I mourned the death of Life when it ceased weekly publication in 1972.

All of these earlier experiences with the printed word helped convince me to take on the responsibilities and the costs of publishing the Houston Historymagazine ten years ago. At the time I made one emphatic point: I was signing on to publishing a printed magazine. I had no intention of producing a digital magazine. If circumstances dictated that we do so, I would step aside.

I lied. Indeed, I am almost pleased to announce the release of our first digital issue. Our decision to substitute a digital publication for one of the three issues each year is a delayed acknowledgement of the financial reality of publishing a specialty magazine for a small audience. The addition of a digital issue opens opportunities for audio and video material, adding new dimensions to the printed word. This will help us expand the training available to the public history students who staff the magazine while also cutting costs and perhaps even attracting new subscribers. Please note that we have never had a price increase, and when we began publication, the magazine came out twice a year. Two issues a year still will be printed, and those who want can order a printed copy of the digital issue from www.magcloud.com (search Houston History).

The dedication of the current staff to the magazine forced me to reconsider my old codger’s attitudes toward its format. Ten years on, I have developed a deep commitment to Houston History and to those past and present who have built it into an outstanding magazine. It is a source of pride to all of us, and we will continue to make changes aimed at improving the magazine and expanding its audience. Meanwhile, I am stashing copies of the printed version in various obscure places with the hopes that my grandsons might someday happen upon them and take pleasure from dusting off the covers, opening the pages, and discovering the pleasures of the printed and bound booklet once called a magazine.

Click here to view the full pdf of this exciting issue.

Click here to view the Table of Contents and access the specific articles with their expanded content.

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