“Is it true? I can’t believe it.” The Eagles – 1974
Nearly a quarter-century ago, at The Record, on Wednesday mornings, retired Retail Advertising Manager Fred Risso, Advertising Account Executive Harold Berg, and I would lead classes of fourth-graders on tours of our Market Street address.
These tours of the newspaper usually started in our lobby, next to a framed copy of the paper’s mission statement, a list of “prime directives” for the paper to follow. The first directive still resonates, perhaps even more now than back then:
Tell the truth, even when the news may not be welcome.
I remember one morning in particular, gathering my class of ten-year-olds near the newsroom door, where three front pages from our past hung in frames in a row on the wall. A headline from that first front page of April 8, 1895, announced an eye-witness account of a shooting that killed a San Francisco police officer. The middle front page headline from April 18, 1906, screamed “EARTHQUAKE” and then the sub-head: “SAN FRANCISCO CONSUMED BY AWFUL FIRE.”
Both seemed ho-hum for my fourth-graders. Then they read the headline of our third front page of April 16, 1912: “1500 PEOPLE LOST AT SEA YESTERDAY WHEN GREAT LINER TITANIC WENT DOWN AMID THE VAST ICEBERGS OFF GRAND BANK!”
“You mean that’s true?” one little girl asked incredulously. “That really happened? It’s not just a movie?”
“It is true,” I told her. “This really happened. You’ve all seen the film?”
All their little heads moved silently up and down as I opened the door to the newsroom. Every kid in the class seemed shaken.
Now fast forward a few years. My wife Ramona and I were at San Francisco’s Metreon Shopping Complex to see a museum exhibit of real Titanic artifacts fished up from the ocean liner’s watery grave. The items included a big chunk of the Titanic’s hull, Titanic China still half-imbedded in sand, and even a recreation of the ship’s grand staircase.
But for us, the most sobering experience was being handed a boarding pass with the name of a real passenger and not knowing that passenger’s fate until the end where a roster of the living and the dead was displayed.
The woman whose name was stamped on Ramona’s boarding pass lived. The man whose boarding pass I held perished.
As we exited, a museum docent stood by collecting our passes. I stopped to tell her my experience with the fourth-graders who thought the Titanic story was just a movie.
“That’s nothing,” she said. “I’ve had adults come through angry, very angry, because as they read the names of the living and the dead, they can’t find the names of Jack and Rose and they want to know why.”
Jack and Rose are the movie characters played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the 1997 Titanic movie.
Youthful naiveté can be excused, but willful, adult ignorance is another matter.
Once when Harold Berg from our Advertising Department was leading a tour of 10-year-olds through our building, he stopped in our Circulation Department and told the kids that The Record made 20% of its revenue from selling newspapers. Then in his Ad Department he asked the children proudly, “If we make 20% of our money selling newspapers, how do you think we make the other 80%?”
One little girl raised her hand. “Does Mr. Spanos give it to you?”
A quarter-century ago we all had a good laugh over that one. These days it hurts too much to think there are those who’d believe such nonsense.
Jack Jacobs retired from The Record in 2017 after a 42-year career with the paper working primarily as the “paper planner,” reserving space on the pages for all the display ads as well as building the classified pages and obituaries. His duties giving Record tours to fourth-graders prepared him for his new career as a docent at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum.