A Community Newspaper

Monday, August 4, 2014

I’ve been reading PDF copies of the Topaz Times as research for a book I’m writing. The newspaper was printed on a mimeograph and the pages were double-sided, so the ink sometimes bled through. There are also places where the lettering is faded or perhaps the ink never filled in well. People worked with what they had in that time and place.

The time was 1942-1945, and the place was Topaz, Utah. It was a community of Japanese Americans who had been displaced from their West Coast homes and incarcerated in the Utah desert. But it was still a community, as is obvious from reading its newspaper.

As an aside, small town newspapers are a great way to learn about a particular time and place. Not that Topaz was exactly small. With 10,000 residents, it was one of the largest cities in Utah. But the Topaz Times was still a community newspaper. It told of births and deaths and engagements and marriages and carried a lost and found column.

The paper covered local politics (within the barbed wire expanse officially called The Central Utah Relocation Center) and local sports and entertainment events. There was an education page covering the preschools, elementary and high schools, and the many adult education classes. The Topaz Times printed letters from former residents who were now on the outside and information from the camp administration.

But there was very little news about the war and what was going on in the United States in general. If it directly affected the Japanese Americans, it was covered. If it didn’t, they had to get their information elsewhere.

Maybe some of that was censorship, even though the Japanese American staff claimed there was little or none. But it could also be a result of limited resources. If you have only so much paper and ink and personpower, wouldn’t you concentrate on the news that most directly affects your readers?

Newspapers are valuable research tools. The ones that cover national and international news are good for discovering historical background and learning what happened when. But if you want to know how people lived, read their community newspaper.

I’m grateful somebody had the foresight to archive the Topaz Times and make it available on the Internet.

But how many other community newspapers have been lost?


The photograph at the top of this post shows Rose Nakagawa working as a mimeograph operator for the Topaz Times. The picture was taken by Francis Stewart on March 11, 1943 as part of the photographer’s official duties as an employee of the United States government. Because it is a government document, the photo is in the public domain.

All editions of the Topaz Times are also in the public domain.

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