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Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Front-Page Editorial in The New York Times

I was just interviewed on "Breakfast," New Zealand's top morning radio program, about the context and impact of The New York Times' front-page editorial - first since 1920 - urging gun control.

Marshall McLuhan, as his work does so often in our age, captured the importance of the front page of a newspaper when he observed, in The Mechanical Bride in 1951, that you can get a sense of the world just by looking at the front page, as if it were a picture, before and without even reading any of the content.  The front page in effect is a figurative landscape of what's going on, which can be grasped at a glance.

The content of the editorial - which the layout calls such justifiably dramatic attention to - is crucial.   I would like to see, as starters, the government start a buy-out program of all semi-automatic weapons, paying twice their purchase price, after declaring these weapons illegal.  Yes, terrorists and psychopaths can still do plenty of damage with hand-guns and knives, but getting rid of a semi-automatic killing machines would be a good way to save some lives.

So the content of the editorial matters, big time.  But placing it on the front page was a masterstroke. Just glancing at the front page shows that there is a sombre, stark importance to what the words are saying.

Lots has been written, including by me, about how paper newspapers are fading away.  But anything on paper still has advantages not seen on any screen, especially the little ones on our phones. Newspapers left on tables and desks can be seen by anyone who passes by.  The editorial on the front page of a newspaper is thus an intrinsically powerful public statement.

It's good to see The New York Times leading the fight on finally getting something done to limit the deaths by guns which are the scourge of this country.

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