Thursday, October 24, 2019

Newark Advocate 2020

Newark Advocate 2020 PROUD Magazine

Jeff Gill


In 1820, James Monroe was President of the United States, Ethan Allen Brown was governor of Ohio, and Newark was still six years away from being incorporated as a town.


Native Americans of the Shawnee and Wyandot tribes still lived in the northern and western parts of the state, often traveling through Licking County, which was just twelve years old itself. Five years earlier in 1815, the original log courthouse was replaced by a modest two story structure, but Courthouse Square around it was still marked by ponds and bogs, surrounded by mostly log structures barely more ornate than pioneer cabins.


And it was in 1820 that "The Newark Advocate" was first published, in a simple sturdy brick building on the square. This intrepid business venture was the brainchild of Benjamin Briggs, a native of Pennsylvania who arrived in Newark's earliest days to make his mark, find a career, and start a newspaper: one that is today the county's oldest continuously operated business.


Briggs owned and edited "The Advocate" for thirty-six years, and as a sign of different times and journalistic expectations, he was elected mayor of Newark twice, and was voted at different times to both the Ohio House and Senate, as well as postmaster. His was a vigorous and partisan editorship, advocating for development projects like the Ohio & Erie Canal or the National Road through Licking County, or local efforts such as new church buildings and improved streets downtown.


In the early 1800s down through the first part of the 1900s, newspapers were almost without exception partisan, and "The Advocate" was a Democratic Party paper. Through the decades, other party and constituency publications flourished – at one point Newark had over twenty newspapers with names like "The Rasp" or "The Constitutionalist" or "The Reveille and Woolgrower"  – but after World War I the rise of a more dispassionate journalistic ethic led to a bipartisan "Advocate" overshadowing the other party-oriented papers, like the "Newark North American" or "Newark Express."


"The Advocate" has outlived its competition in most cases by outworking it: the paper was the first in the county to go from monthly to weekly to daily, and has been a daily for a majority of its publication history. An early adopter of electronic media tools, the news now arrives by email and on browser windows as much as it does on doorsteps or in driveways. Social media and online reading make the entire news environment a constant, never-ending opportunity for readers to connect and advertisers to reach audiences.


Advertising along with subscriptions has been the heart of the "Advocate" business model since Briggs' days as editor and owner. After many decades of private ownership, the formation of the Advocate Printing Company saw the business into the Twentieth Century, and "The Newark Advocate" is now part of the USA Today Network. Whether in the print product or the online version, newspaper ads are still a major part of each page, and looking back through the two hundred years of history you learn almost as much from those ads as you do the articles about who we are as a county.


The first hundred years you see many advertisements for horses and carriages and the equipment and services that go with them; in the second hundred years, cars and trucks are well represented in the ad sections, while you have trouble finding a livery stable. Through the 1800s, clothiers and haberdashers and milliners are common in the corners of each page promoting their wares; today, banner ads online and sidebars are focused on very different retail angles, from electronics to home delivered groceries.


But in the editorial content itself, you hear the spirit of each era speaking both to their subscribers, and also as that "first rough draft of history" credited to journalism. Sometimes that voice is cracked and flawed – The Advocate sadly did not endorse Abraham Lincoln in either 1860 or in 1864 – but you can also hear calls for justice in the 1960s through Op-Eds, and editorial invitations to renewal and re-invigoration as Newark has navigated the end of one industrial era and the beginnings of our information age.


Benjamin Briggs, the first editor (and reporter, and circulation manager, and advertising executive, and pressman), was said in Hill's 1881 "History of Licking County" to have been "a clear, forcible writer, much given to the use of strong Saxon words that vigorously expressed his ideas, and he never wrote without having ideas to convey. . . When he chose to be vituperative he generally succeeded." But he was also "identified with every project that tended to the advancement and welfare of the place and its people," and left for Washington an honored representative of Licking County's interests. Today's editor, Benjamin Lanka, wouldn't expect to run for political office while still holding a position of journalistic trust, but he and his staff still honor clear and concrete writing, condemnation when called for, and praise whenever possible. With a volunteer community Editorial Board, "The Newark Advocate" still has strong words and straightforward suggestions about what can improve and enhance the everyday lives of people around today's Courthouse Square.


From the Briggs era to the present day, you can't help but notice how the interests of "The Advocate" have always "tended to the advancement and welfare of the place and its people."

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Faith Works 10-26-19

Faith Works 10-26-19

Jeff Gill


Treasure in jars of clay



Let me share some shocking news here. I am unapologetically a pastor of a Christian congregation, what's sometimes inaccurately called "organized religion." Jesus is amazing, but his church has made mistakes. Big ones. Over millennia. We've signed off on slavery and misogyny, oppression and exclusion, Crusades and witch burnings. We're still arguing over what the Boss actually meant when he said "Love one another," which really shouldn't be that hard to interpret.


But I'm still a Christian, a preacher, and a minister of a local congregation. Because the core values and central mission of Christian faith still speak to me of eternal things, of lasting value, of enduring hope . . . and are worth handing along to others.


It's the time of year when a number of organizations, sometimes called "parachurch" groups, are doing their fundraising or mobilization activities, and there's one in particular involving shoeboxes and Christmas gifts that always attracts a great deal of social media furor about the rightness of working with that group and its current executive director (spoiler alert: he's not the first leader of that organization, nor will he be its last). And we're getting ready for the Christmas season, with kettles and bell ringing and Angel Tree efforts already under way, and there are people with concerns about those groups and their policies, past or present, as well.


I am, at heart, a historian as much as a preacher, and I'm aware of the sins of the past perhaps to a detail even beyond what the detractors are focused on. My own congregation and regional church body has some doozies back a century or even less than half a century ago. To do good we've allowed ourselves to be bad, let alone wrong. Yet as the old saying goes, if I found the perfect church, I'd ruin it by joining.


Yes, by sharing the Good News (in Old English, "godspell," or Gospel) through any organized church I'm running some risk of passing along some of our more flawed and foolish errors of the past, contaminants of the container, not the contents, and I might not be gifting others with the purest possible word of life -- but without those clay jars and woven baskets of churchly construction, I would have less of the outpouring to offer up to those without. Without hope, without grace, without peace.


So I use some bruised reeds and cracked pots to carry the water of life -- Samaritan's Purse, The Salvation Army, the Christian Church in Ohio, even (good Lord help us) Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) right here in Newark. We have much to repent for, many reasons to seek redemption, but these broken buckets and flawed vessels are what we have at hand to work with. The house of this world is burning, on fire my friends, and you might tell me "there are more fitting containers further away!" but I'm working with the tools I have at hand to quench the flames. I know the lineage of this equipment, I'm aware of the compromised history, but I'm still going to take them to the river, wash them in the water, dip them deep in the flow, and pass along what refreshment and restoration I can.


Anyone who wants to stand off to one side and criticize the bucket brigade as flawed and foolish and failing may do so. I'm going to step in line, pass along what I'm handed, and do the best I can with what I've got . . . and will upgrade as I'm able. But to say this isn't the best that can be done, so stop all work and stand around talking about how we could do it all better -- you can have that conversation on the sidelines, but I'm going to work while we have light, with the tools at hand. Work, while night is falling. [John 9:4]


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's entirely in favor of repentance and redemption, even for organizations. Tell him what you'd renew from the past at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.