Newspapers are history

HBO is airing (if that’s what cable channels do) an excellent documentary this month on a piece of New York history. “Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts Of Flatbush” is, of course, primarily concerned with baseball. The stories of the introduction of Jackie Robinson and the Dodger-Yankee rivalry are covered in depth. But the show also digs into Brooklyn as a place. The underdog Dodgers reflected the borough, just as the powerful Yankees reflected Manhattan (even if the Yanks did play in the Bronx).

The documentary makes prominent use of newspapers as source material, as such shows often do. Headlines tell stories conveniently, after all. But the newspaper itself becomes a part of the Dodgers story. Brooklyn fell on hard times in the 1950s, and “The Ghosts of Flatbush” makes some interesting mention of the influence of the local paper — or the lack of one. The demise of the Brooklyn Eagle in 1955 is portrayed as symptomatic of what was happening in Brooklyn at that time. The documentary also asserts that the lack of a daily newspaper in the area made it easier for the Dodgers to move to Los Angeles. No newspaper meant no community voice.

Baseball is not the only ghost in Brooklyn. The singular and prominent role of the newspaper may be just a memory as well.