Berlin Wall falls too late for Snapper

Peter Yerger ’90

Former Commentary Editor (1989-1990)

I was The Snapper’s commentary editor on November 9, 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. It was, as most of the history majors reading this could tell you, the defining political moment of an age: an end to the Cold War and the death knell of communism.

I wish I could tell you that The Snapper’s newsroom was a cataclysm of adrenaline and coffee, with editors leaning over tables randomly screaming, “Get me rewrite!” and with crumpled drafts of breathless, well-informed opinions strewn underfoot. I wish I could tell you that I sat at my thick oak desk immersed in thought, desperate to find the finest words to encapsulate these events as the publishing deadline approached. And I could tell you these things, of course, and you’d have no reason to disbelieve me. History, after all, has a rich tradition of disingenuous revisionism.

Here is what actually happened:

26 years ago, The Snapper was printed on Wednesdays. The Berlin Wall fell on a Thursday. On a typical Thursday, we were rarely in the newsroom except perhaps to socialize. Now, to my credit, I was probably still in the building at some point, but it’s far more likely that I was playing pinball. When we finally did go to press, Germany did make the front page, but as something of an anecdote. My opinion column that week, as it was most weeks, was column-inch after column-inch of navel-gazing.

The campus slumbered through the geopolitical earthquake. We didn’t even know what we didn’t know. The Internet was in its infancy and was not yet used at The Snapper. There were few televisions on campus, mostly in the dormitory lobbies, and no one I know would have paid attention to the nightly news; those televisions were there for music videos and so-terrible-it’s-good cable movies.

PeterYerger1989

So the Wall fell, and somehow we graduated, and the world beat its swords into cellphones. None of us is insulated now from faraway lands and faraway problems. I could not, even if I wanted to, ignore a major world event. Within moments of its happening, there will be an insistent flashing blue light on my phone letting me know that Something Terrible Has Happened, followed inexorably by a Greek chorus of vapid opinions and Facebook prayers.

On the whole, it seems good to be more connected to the world, but the marvels of this Information Revolution come with new dangers. Significantly, the merchants of information are no longer journalists aspiring to a higher ideal, but boardroom executives aspiring to pad the next quarterly statement. “Whatsoever things are true” has been replaced with “whatever gets us clicks”. There are now entire media networks, and not a few presidential candidates, which prey upon the prejudice and ignorance of their base rather than choose to inform and advance a national dialogue. Diogenes, armed with a lamp and looking for a honest man, must now consider that the lamplight itself may betray him.

 

I was invited to share my thoughts on how my time at The Snapper has affected me, and I thought that was curious, as my time at The Snapper was hardly illustrious. In fact, my entire four years at Millersville is a thick catalogue of poor choices and self-important idiocy, and my service at The Snapper was that in miniature. But I did learn one important thing, something more important now than ever:

 

Question your sources.

 

You are now drowning in information. Question its source and intent. Is it there to inform you or to manipulate you? In what context, if any, is the information provided? Is that context accurate or misleading? Is your gut response to the article emotional or intellectual? What does the author stand to gain from publishing? Are you willing to be critical of a position even if you want to agree with it? These are healthy questions to consider when reading anything from a state paper down to a Tinder profile.

 

In closing, I’m thankful to have had a small part in nudging The Snapper along to its 90th birthday, and I am grateful to the current editorial staff to be given one more moment in print. I wish things had been much different when I was an editor, and I wish I could have accurately assessed the weight of what was happening as an entire world order crumbled. But, if anything, college is a place where a new generation can profit from the errors of those who came before them.

 

I missed my mark. Don’t miss yours.