Sunday, January 25, 2015

Seeking Peter Pan

FAITH was not the only beneficiary during the recent papal visit. The news media did quite well in the scramble to follow every step taken by the well-loved pontiff in Manila and Tacloban during the historic four-day visit.

Every day, after the novena mass at the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño, I looked for a copy of Sun.Star Cebu and the Philippine Daily Newspaper. In our household, my 75-year-old mother and I have to get our hands on the paper edition of these dailies.

Unlike my teenage sons and husband, who are true digital natives, trawling the Net for updates leaves us in a state of digital vertigo. The paper edition also makes a good keepsake, dog-eared pages, smudged thumbprints and all.

Yet, it was during the daily scouring for the papers that I noticed for the first time how newsboys have become scarce. The figure I remember spotting loitering at every stoplight and street corner or weaving agilely among idling motorists, hawking a pancake pile of “hot, just off the press” papers, was now nowhere to be seen downtown.

I walked three blocks to find a sidewalk newsstand. The grandmother sold me the national broadsheet for only P4 more than the cover price. I wondered if it was because she still had several copies of the dailies and it was mid-afternoon already.

During the Saturday procession that culminated the Sto. Niño novena, I walked down Jones and Gen. Maxilom Avenues before I came upon, as twilight fell, a small roadside store with a few dailies.

Exasperated by my sidewalk stalking, the older son pointed out the vendors selling peanuts, hats, fans, and bottled water due to demand. I must be the only person in a million looking for a newspaper in the middle of a solemn procession, he griped.

Yet, more than the scarcity of the dailies on the streets, the absence of newsboys is a telling sign of the times.

After my street search, I discovered that the newsboy mascot is no longer in this paper’s masthead. In the paper edition, the image of an actual sculpture of the Sun.Star newsboy is found on the first page of the opinion-editorial section.

Would someone belonging to my teenage sons’ generation recognize this kid, in his several-sizes-too-big shirt, a pile of newspapers clutched to his side, mouth frozen in his street patter to sell dailies as hot as pan de sal?

When I was a news intern, newsboys—the term shrugged off age, applied to grandfathers and grandsons—converged like pigeons outside the printers, sorting papers before hitting the streets early in the day.

During the waning days of the Marcos dictatorship, a newsboy carrying the alternative papers was a sign that democracy was far from tottering; it took courage to carry newspapers the authorities confiscated.

My poet and blogger friend Myke recalled that reading the newspapers he sold for school allowance ignited his love for words. It would be sentimentality to deduce from the absence of newsboys the end of child labor.

In J. M. Barrie’s tale, Peter Pan led a team of Lost Boys, who ended in Neverland after they fell off their prams while their nannies were looking away. As the digital versions outrace the paper editions of newspapers, what do boys now sell on the streets?

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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s January 25, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata

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