`Don't tell me what happened -- tell me who did it!'

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BACK 1,000 years or so ago, when I was being instructed in the oddities of journalism, the big thing was the ``personal item.'' Simple hometown gossip, if you will, and I turned 'em out by the papermakers' mile: ``Mr. and Mrs. Roger Hawley and children enjoyed a weekend in Guilford with Mr. Hawley's mother.'' Today, the misguided editors of what is left of the hometown press avoid such and go for news of importance. But they are wrong, because those old personal items were geared to the greatest truth in the world -- that everybody likes to see his name in the paper. My gentle old editor kept instructing me, ``Don't tell me what happened -- tell me who did it!'' The personal items sold newspapers. We told about fires and politics and sports, of course, but the chore was to fill the columns with names. We kne w that all of our readers also ``took'' the daily paper from the city, but we knew that after they read about wars and other world problems they would turn to us to find out what was going on.

So whenever I pick up what, today, purports to be a hometown newspaper, I meditate on the great changes. Today everybody seems to be a columnist and an authority. Story after story uses ``a spokesperson said,'' ``consensus is,'' ``it was revealed today,'' ``unavailable for comment,'' and suchlike inanities that, I suppose, country editors presume will make them sound like the New York Times.

Well, it wasn't all that easy to do personal items. Just about anybody can sit down and do a profound editorial about international terrorism, but a good personal item calls for knowing what you're doing. And you've got to know how to spell.

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An editorial can have mistakes in spelling, lapses in grammar, and even bad logic, and nobody cares, but if you drop an ``e'' out of the proper name Greezelwreeter, Mr. Greezelwreeter will come bounding into the office before the ink is dry to let you know what he thinks of incompetent journalism.

Bill Nye said the principal requisite for a career on a newspaper was to understand the orthographic peculiarities of the English language -- even more important than knowing how to make a good adhesive paste that wouldn't sour in hot weather.

The personal item was, in truth, very far from ``local.'' People are people everywhere, and the doings of one will arouse some degree of rapport in all others. So I've been wondering if a few personal items from our town of Friendship might not prove my point:

Sheila Fowler has stopped buying clams and will open her shanty soon as a lunchroom. Sheila says she feels like making a change and loves to cook. The town doesn't have a place where anybody can come in from a cold day and have a cup of soup and a sandwich, and Sheila thinks she'll make out. Opening has been delayed because the statehouse hasn't mailed back her permit. Clams are quoted at $28.

Postmaster Robert Lash had a handsome pie pumpkin on the stamp counter during October. Instead of a scary face, it had the zip number and an appeal to mail early for Halloween.

Church notes: The Rev. Monroe of the Christian Advent has his garden plot cleaned up for winter; looks nice. The Rev. Norman Young is organizing a Christmas tour to the Holy Land. Several have signed, but there is room for more.

Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Rasmussen are home after a visit with friends at Greenville. Although frost has held off here at the shore, they said it snowed while they were up there.

The hardware store has changed hands. Tony Campagna isn't sure what he'll do now, but may go back to teaching, which was his profession before he bought the store a few years ago from Doug Lash. The new owner is from away.

Cap'n Alan Bellhouse has naturalized some bulbs on the lawn about his home at the harbor, promising some new pretties come spring.

The old John Lash boat is on the lawn at the Tom Delano house, where Tom's son and grandson are scraping with intentions for a spring launch. The boat is some 40 years old, so needs considerable work. The late Mr. Lash left two boats, and the newer one is being fished now by his daughter Debbie Bower, who is the only female in the Friendship fleet.

Everybody reads everybody's column.

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