7. “Information” and the Fire


Walter Benjamin, a cultural theorist who wrote between the two World Wars, believed that over the course of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century the rise of  newspapers created “a quotation-marks-gray-3-webThe newspaper industry presented fragments of reality, a random and dissonant parade of events and happenings.quotation-marks-gray-closing-3new form of communication” centered less on meaning and more on what he called the pure cataloging of uncontextualized “information.”   In Benjamin’s influential account, the journalistic writing and layout of the mass dailies departed from longer-established traditions of storytelling.  Folk stories,  epic poetry, and fairy tales, for example, emerged from intimate, shared habits of listening and communicating.  The short informational bursts in the modern press, by contrast, never aspired to abstraction, the symbolically suggestive, or even the coherent as readers moved their eyes information and the collinwood fire sepia smallCleveland News, March 9, 1908.across chaotic columns. The newspaper industry presented fragments of reality, a random and dissonant parade of “event[s] and happening[s] per se”.dagger2-web

This overstimulated restlessness jumps off one page from the Cleveland News printed shortly after the fire.  Portraits of fire victims extend downward through columns two and three, but the paper provides no more information about any of them.  In column one, a banker in Detroit “blows out his brains.”  To the right, a high-ranking British naval officer has received a secret letter from Kaiser Wilhelm and all of Britain is in a stir of speculation.  Two other fires that have no connection to the one in Collinwood appear near the middle of the page.  Separated for no clear reason from the other photos of fire victims,  a double portrait of the Buschman sisters, who also died in Collinwood, heads column five. At the far right, an ad selling a miracle cure for arthritis poses as a news story.  Illustrated ads aimed at women (corn syrup, shoes, and furniture) promise consumer fulfillment, even as the world erupts in bombings, fires, and suicides.  The Cleveland News, like other papers, tangled disaster with the sale of sweeteners and fashionable footwear, framing sensational stories with the yearning to shop.camera victorian orange transparentfancy-divider-520-50px2-web

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    2. Postcards
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    3. News on the Street
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    4. Public Square
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    5. The Look of the News
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    6. Illustrations
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    7. Information
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    8. Glenn Sanderson
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    9. Fire Heroines
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    10. Fritz Hirter
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    11. Stereotypes & Sorrow
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    12. Memory & Witness
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