"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

Big news

idaho RANDY

Annually, newspapers around the country list the top local and regional news stories of the year, lists often begging the difference between “big news” and “actually important.” Sometimes the two overlap; often, they don’t.

The Idaho Statesman at Boise, on occasion of its 150th anniversary since its first edition, has this year run a series of articles about the top stories in its pages during that century and a half. They’ve been good reading, useful for anyone who wants to understand a little more about the sweep of Idaho history. They only occasionally reflect what was perceived as big news at the time.

Mostly, you can’t blame the paper for that. One article for example was about the opening of the first store Joe Albertson launched, at Boise, in 1939. Back in the day it made the paper in a brief notice on page 21 (about what the opening of a new grocery store might, were it lucky, get today). Who could have known what would blossom, decades later, from that one little store?

It’s an example of why newspapers offer just a first draft of history; time makes many events look different in hindsight.

Or sometimes not, at least to many people. Last week the Statesman was promoting selections, made by its readers (not the editors), of choices for the biggest story in Idaho’s (or, the Statesman’s) history, and released the identity of the final four.

One, dating to 1890, is understandable both as an event and as a matter of significance: The achievement of statehood. Not a terrible choice; if you bundle that in with adoption of the state constitution (though I wouldn’t), it was both a big deal at the time, much debated and much written about, and still significant with the passage of time.

Here are the other three:

The Teton Dam collapse in 1976.

The opening of the Boise Latter Day Saints temple in 1984.

Boise State University’s win in the 2007 Fiesta bowl.

Really? True, they all generated big Statesman headlines at the time. But did any of them fundamentally change Idaho? The Teton Dam did great local damage, but repairs happened quickly, and the reverberations have been subtle. The opening of the Boise LDS temple was personally significant to the local church faithful, but it had little effect on others. And a Boise State football victory? Really?

And is it significant that three of these four choices happened within the last 40 years? Is our sense of what came before really that thin?

A few years ago I co-wrote a book called Idaho 100 about the people who most influenced the direction of the Gem State. They included people like David Eliason Pierce, the miner whose gold discovery near Orofino set off the mining boom that led to creation of Idaho Territory, the founding of Boise and its nearby communities, and much more. There was Ira Perrine, whose push for water resource development led directly to the creation of what we know as the Magic Valley. And Joe Marshall, whose single-handed 1917 marketing of the Idaho potato gave the state its signature industry. Or Thomas Ricks, whose founding in 1883 of the city named for his family (Rexburg) was the most direct cause of the biggest religious-social development in Idaho history.

None of those made big headlines when they happened.

Remember the line from the 60s: “The revolution will not be televised”? Well, it might not make the paper, either. Or be much remembered.

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One Comment

  1. fortboise said:

    You’ve been out of town a while, I can tell. :-)
    FWIW, there is no question in my mind that the Boise State win in the Fiesta Bowl would make the top 4 in a voluntary quiz of the locals, even as I find it about as incomprehensible as you do.

    People don’t remember History as much as they do their own stories. The insight of those who work at the task of making sense of the longer view is all the more valuable for that. Thanks for remembering things.

    July 25, 2014

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