It’s time for us to tell others: Why community newspapers matter

Norman Rockwell: The Country Editor

(I’m told that’s Rockwell himself walking in the door!)

IT’S TIME WE GAVE community newspapers the credibility and respect they’ve earned—and we can lead that effort. Right here.

Like you, I’m tired of community newspapers being considered the “bottom of the heap.”

Like you, I’m tired of young journalists considering community newspapers a place to learn the business before they go on the “greatness” at The New York Times, The Washington Post or USA TODAY.

It’s about time journalists understand and appreciate the value of what all of those small newspapers do for readers and their communities.

If you work at a small newspaper, let’s let the world know why you are so dedicated to what you do. Why you spend 60 hours a week at our job. Why the good of your community is always the focus of your day. You may be the publisher, the editor, the advertising director, the circulation director, a reporter, a photographer. Whatever you do at a community newspaper, it’s time to let others know how much your newspaper means to your town.

So, here’s the deal I’m offering: Anyone…anyone…whose comments about community journalism are published on this blog will receive a free pdf copy of my book, Henninger on Design. It’s yours just for joining me in this mission to give community newspapers—and the people who work there—the respect they deserve.

Want to know more about Henninger on DesignCheck it out here.

Joining me on this mission is easy. Just tell me why community newspapering matters to you. Give us your insights, based on your experience. You’ll receive the book with my compliments.

Please include your name, position, name of your newspaper and location. If you can, also send along a mug shot, a photo of your newsroom or the exterior of of your building. Or maybe you can send a pdf of your newspaper’s nameplate. I’d like to have those to run with your comments.
Like you, I believe small newspapers are the heartbeat of their communities. Let’s let others hear that heartbeat: strong, long, loud and clear.


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40 responses to “It’s time for us to tell others: Why community newspapers matter

  1. The description alone says a lot: COMMUNITY newspapers. There’s great value in news about our neighborhoods. Stories of wonder are more likely to touch us; stories of deceit are more likely to anger and inspire action. Stories of great loss are more likely to reach us and build support; these are our neighbors.
    I’m old enough to have delivered newspapers on my bike. It was a small community paper that came out twice a week. So twice a week, I loaded up my canvas bag and went to every house on the country road where I lived. I got to know everyone.

  2. The Baker County Press truly epitomizes a community newspaper. Since 1929 The Press has kept the citizens in Baker County aware of what is going on in their county from the tidbits about who was in town to how there tax dollars are spent each year. I have worked at The Baker County Press for the last 13 going on 14 years and have come to understand the need we fill each week. The newspaper may not always be the most popular place to work and in a small town that is true more often than not, but it is a very fulfilling job. Instead of being part of a large company, I know my boss and can step into his office at any time. I have learned not only how to design ads, I can also sell them and bill them. I can layout not only the sports section, but pages 1-16. I can take pictures of kids working on a project at school and also cover a bad wreck. These are skills I would never have learned at a large paper and in this small community every detail is important! We work with the graphic classes at the local high school and are able to work closely with the students to try and teach them from an early age just how important a newspaper is. Whether it’s finding out who their teacher is for the new school year or seeing their face in a photo. My name is Jessica Prevatt, circulation, advertising and production director at The Baker County Press in Macclenny, Fla. The Baker County Press is on Facebook.

  3. Lauri Shillings

    Community newspapers are the literal ‘glue’ that holds a community together. Often people in a small community do not all live in the central hub or the ‘city’. They are tied together by rural, gravel roads and school athletic events. They talk to their neighbors a few times a week, or often, a few times a month. How do they communicate and keep in touch with the rest of the community? Via the lifeblood of the area – the community newspaper.
    Readers of the community newspaper know how their grandkids did in the big basketball game. They know who married the neighbors’ daughter. They know who is running for county council, and decide if they want to vote for that person by how they represent themselves in their local community paper (and by how their neighbors and family talk about that person after reading the community paper).
    Readers of the community newspaper read the advertising to see which grocery will have a better deal on milk that week, what downtown shop has interesting, unique christmas gifts, and to know what car dealer in the area has the newest, coolest car for sale.
    These small retailers depend on community newspapers’ advertising and getting the word out about their product, so they can continue to thrive in a struggling economy, so they can keep their community alive, so they can keep their families in the same community they have been for generations. So their neighbors know who they are talking to a few times a week. It’s all tied together people!
    Community newspapers contribute to a cycle of life in their area. With out your community newspaper there is something missing, something special that you might not even know how much you’re going to miss until it’s gone.
    Imagine your neighbors, friends and work associates all leaving one by one to go to a bigger city, with less friendly and less local information only because that’s where the money is. That is where jobs can be found. That is where people shop and play and go to school. Who do you know there? Who is your neighbor? Who do you trust? Imagine how lonely that would be.
    Without community newspapers, small communities would be lonely indeed because community newspapers can provide these friendly, local details that are so integral to your life today.

  4. I’m an editor at a small-town newspaper in central Illinois, but more than that, I’m the fourth generation in my family to do so. Currently, my parents serve as the paper’s publishers and my husband is our sports editor.
    I started working for the newspaper when I was in high school, where I fell in love with photojournalism. Like many young students, I had large aspirations to work someday for National Geographic or something of the like. After earning my degree in journalism, I quickly learned that I was much better suited for community journalism, just like I’d grown up with. I wanted to spend more time out in my community gathering stories that mattered. I returned home just two years after I graduated and have been there for the past seven.
    Community newspapers provide a source of information you can’t always find somewhere else, like local obituaries, social news, and high school sports scores to name a few. Our readers pick up the paper twice a week to find out what’s going on in their communities, how they can help residents in need and read about some of their favorite people. I think having a strong community newspaper helps to foster a strong sense of community.
    I’m not saying that large newspapers don’t have their place, but community newspapers fill a much different niche. Our readers and advertisers depend on us each and every week, and that’s why my family will continue to do what it’s done for generations ahead of me.

  5. Jennie Kearney

    Why do I work at a community newspaper? Because our paper matters. I have been able to see how an article can influence the citizens to act — or not to act — in various ways. In fact, seeing the direct effect of my words on the public has made me feel a sense of responsibility for my work that may be lacking for some staff on larger-scale newspapers. Living and working in a small community, I need to be aware of how my words will be taken, what the consequences may be both to me, the newspaper, the people I mention, and the town itself — yet I also have a call to be truthful and informative. I have made mistakes, and I have regretted my words more than once, but I strive to do better each week and to make sure our paper is a reliable source for news, sports, local activities, politics, school events, human interest stories, and any other information they seek — including area retailers’ sales!

  6. I have worked as a graphic designer for over 35 years. Because of my husband’s profession, we have lived in several small communities and I have worked for two small-town newspapers. Why do I like designing advertising for these newspapers? Let me give you an example:
    On Friday, a young mother came in our office to place a thank-you ad. Her baby boy died in a tragic car accident on the family property only weeks earlier. Of course, our newspaper covered the story but the story didn’t end with the facts.
    As I talked to her, she related how she couldn’t have been standing in front of me without the prayers and support of her family, friends and community. She told me how the local churches prayed for the family and how they received cards from people they didn’t know — these individuals just wanted to share their grief. Others anticipated their needs by providing meals or just a shoulder to cry on. As I looked at her written words of thanks, I started immediately to think how I would sensitively handle this situation and honor her child. I took some of the words she said describing her child and worked them into a concept. The ad hasn’t run yet, but I hope it will help in the healing process.
    That’s why I like working for a small-town newspaper. There’s a certain type of person who wants to live in such a community. And in my experience, most of these people value decency, reach out to their fellow man, and are solid individuals with solid morals. They say “Bless their heart…” when bad news happens and slip a 50-dollar bill to the minster or sheriff to help with a family’s need in an anonymous fashion. Of course, our headlines carry the drug arrests and other crime stories, but for the most part, we carry the stories of someone’s engagement and wedding, what’s happening in 4-H, and the goings-on of local politics.
    But working with local advertisers is a unique experience. The business people anticipate customers’ needs or whims. They know Mr. Smith would like a blue patterned tie or Mrs. Smith mentioned she was looking for a certain cooking utensil. They will purchase those items for their own inventory or they will go out of their way to find those items for their customers. In turn, I get to know each advertiser and gear my work to help their business by producing the best looking ad I can.
    They may only be able to afford a 2 column x 4″ ad but they deserve as much attention as the car dealer with a full-page ad. Each business and advertiser is knitted into the fabric of our community. Each one is part of the bedrock of small town life and in turn, the nation.
    Sadly, when one business closes its doors, a small town grieves. In a large city or market, that is commonplace. But in a small town, a story is written for the newspaper and a history is told. Citizens say, “I remember when…” and that’s the story that needs to be told.

  7. Community Newspapers are the hub of information for their towns. While there are many sources for broad-based news, the local specific news of importance to a smaller community can only be found in the community newspaper. From cradle to the grave, we cover things that just aren’t easily found elsewhere. We also give a degree of importance to the news of a community. You don’t see many people printing out a web story and putting it on the refrigerator.

  8. Debbie Behrends

    I love my job at a community newspaper. I am the editor of the Valley Free Press covering Somonauk, Sandwich and Plano, Ill. … along with a host of even smaller communities. I get to meet the most interesting people and tell their stories. They love it, their neighbors love it and the people in the next town love it. I heard it referred to once as “refrigerator door journalism.” That’s an accurate description. I get to be the community cheerleader. I’ve worked at larger dailies and much prefer the community weekly.

  9. Metro papers may or may not continue to fall on their swords, but community papers will survive and flourish because people want to know what is happening in their communities.

    Four years ago, I publicly predicted that metros would be replaced by community papers that will spring up inside metro areas. News will always be important. Community news will always be vitally important.

  10. So much of our history gets lost because it is never recorded. Having served as the editor of a small rural Nebraska community newspaper for the past four years, I have come to appreciate that importance newspapers serve as historical archives for future generations.
    Stories in small communities are sometimes told and told again before publication ever happens. But they will best be remembered when they are investigated and properly recorded as they are in our weekly newspapers.
    Let’s be honest, no one covers your small town news like your small town newspaper.

  11. The communities in which I live and work are like an extension of my family, but because I may not know everyone as intimately or see everyone as often as I do my immediate family and relatives, community newspapers are one way to stay connected and involved.
    The kinds of things we publish in the Catholic Herald aren’t always going to make national news—they rarely do—and they may not even show up in the newspapers of big, surrounding cities. The kind of news that is important to a family is sometimes only going to be published in a community newspaper like the Catholic Herald. Without these papers, these memories and stories are lost.
    Someone wrote to us once to let us know that a story my coworker at the time wrote about a fundraiser, generated an additional $1,000 donation for his cause. After an article I wrote about a program that helps couples heal after having a stillborn baby, I received an email from someone who was touched by the article. Even better, the woman in charge of that program emailed me to let me know that she received a phone call the day it was published from a family who lost a baby—the grandmother wanted to know how she could help.
    When I wrote a series of stories about a 17-year-old boy who was struggling with cancer at the time, but passed away, a few people mailed me prayer cards and things to send to the family along with notes that they would be praying for him and his family.
    On the same day, another article of mine was published about a vigil that was going to be held for victims/survivors of priest sexual abuse. The pastor in charge of the vigil emailed me to share that a survivor who read the article planned to attend.
    Community newspapers like the Catholic Herald tell the stories that keep members of this community involved with and connected to each other, loving and supporting each other through their failures—like priest sexual abuse—and successes—like raising money to help a family pay for the costs of cancer treatment or getting donations of food so families with limited means can eat a Thanksgiving dinner.
    The Catholic Herald in Milwaukee is one way that Catholics in southeastern Wisconsin and throughout the 10 counties of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee together mourn over losses, celebrate successes, spread hope, encourage each other through struggles, coordinate fundraisers to benefit those in need of the basic necessities and stay connected to each other across the miles.
    To sum it up in my own version of one of my favorite quotes—To the world, the Catholic Herald might be just a community newspaper, but to one person or family member in this community whose life is changed because of a story that we’ve published—that’s proof enough to me that the work we do is important.
    Tracy Rusch, staff reporter
    Catholic Herald, Milwaukee

  12. No one else is telling the stories we are, from local govt. happenings to local sports to what the local 4-H club did last week.
    Some of what we editors feel is important — like papers being the watchdog for the citizens — takes a back seat to what a lot of readers feel is important — stories on what their kids and grandkids are doing in school and in other activities.
    Community papers are also an important link in our communities’ economic chain. We provide a cost-effective way for our businesses to promote their products/services. I make it a point to thank people who come in to bellyache about something we did or didn’t do in the paper, because I know they are our “followers” and that they “like us” and want to stay our “friend.”
    Technological advances we have to adapt to, yes, but it’s that weekly printed paper that creates community conversations, raises awareness of community issues and brings the community together to take action. Community newspapers also matter because without them, a lot of local radio stations wouldn’t have news to read…

  13. I was one of those young journalists who landed a job on a smaller paper, with the intention of moving on. That was 32 years ago, and I’m still at The Lebanon (Ind.) Reporter, for dozens of reasons — the most important one being that I can make, and have made, a difference in hundreds of lives. We’ve identified threats to public health and safety, we’ve given credit to heroes who would otherwise have been unknown, we’ve given publicity to countless community charity events and fundraising activities.
    But more, we’re the constant frame around which this rural/urban/suburban county abutting Indianapolis has grown. Our readers have, for decades, had a sense that The Reporter is “their” newspaper — there is a sense of ownership which would not exist if we didn’t report on not only what has happened, but will happen. We remind parents that their children must have certain vaccinations or they can’t attend school. We caution drivers that highway construction is being planned — and we Tweet and post on our web breaking news that affects morning commutes and school closings. We do a weekly webcast of the high school football or basketball game of the week, after publishing previews of what fans can expect to see at those games.
    We’ve interviewed the families of homicide victims, giving them an outlet to mourn and to thank the community for the prayers and support which helped them survive the trauma. We’ve reported on events that some would rather have seen buried — because the public has a right to know not just how their tax dollars are being spent, but how they are being misused.
    Maintaining the wall between the advertising department and the news room isn’t easy in a small town, but we’ve kept that barrier strong, while explaining to readers and advertisers why that wall is important.
    To paraphrase a country and western song, we were hyperlocal before hyperlocal was cool — and that’s one of the many reasons we’ve survived, are surviving, and will continue to survive.
    Our community needs us, and we need our community.
    And knowing that sometimes a clip of your work is decorating a refrigerator doesn’t hurt, either.

  14. Mark Morehouse

    In my career, I have worked for two small community newspapers, one medium sized community newspaper, and one big city paper. The community papers have no equal when it comes to local, small town news. Local television stations focus on the big cities they broadcast from, and don’t delve much into small town happenings, and when they do, it isn’t with much detail. Consequently, the small town paper I currently work for seems to be muddling through this recession better than the big city paper I came from. Community newspapers are not just history, they may just end up being the future as well.

  15. Recently I met someone new in the community and during the usual chitchat about work and family she exclaimed “An editor! That must be fun, deciding what goes in paper and what doesn’t.”
    Sure. Like a sharp stick in the eye.
    Oh, she commiserated, do people call you when they don’t like what you chose?
    Do kids have meltdowns in the school supply aisle?
    That would be a yes.
    It was Wednesday. Too bad, she said, the paper came out today so tomorrow your phone might start to ring.
    Um, make that 9 a.m. Wednesday morning.
    Some people like to start their mornings on a high note.
    I’ll never forget my first reader complaint as a new reporter. Some guy called insisting that the people I interviewed for the story were the wrong ones. I should have talked to so-and-so and such-and-such, folks he thought would have made a better story. Nothing was incorrect in the story, mind you; he just took exception with its sources.
    I was devastated to think I made someone unhappy.
    That was my first introduction to big wide world of communal employment, of working at a job that just about everyone had an opinion about.
    Most jobs go largely overlooked. Not very many of us spend much time discussing how much better our insurance agent could be doing his job, or the plumber who comes to rescue us from broken pipes or the x-ray technician performing our scan.
    I’ve noticed people feel the strongest about jobs that affect us emotionally, or jobs that feel like community property: teachers, police, and politicians…editors.
    Those positions tend to be polarizing, pushing the general public to one end or the other.
    If I write about a subject you care about, you think I’m pretty smart. If I assign a story to a reporter that you particularly enjoyed, I’m a genius. But if my reporter writes about blue flowers and what you are really passionate about is red flowers, I’m an idiot and shouldn’t be allowed around a computer keyboard.
    Something I’ve been told, repeatedly.
    That old adage “you can’t make all of the people happy all of the time but you can make some of the people happy some of time” had to have been conceived about a newspaper.
    What’s it really like being a journalist?
    It’s waking up every print day realizing you are going to disappoint someone.
    It’s asking tough, awkward questions every bit of social training has told you aren’t nice to ask but you know are important to get the whole story.
    It’s fielding phone calls, sometimes at home, from wackos who want you to write about their latest alien abduction.
    It’s staring at a computer screen late at night after a five-hour meeting, desperately trying to create coherent thought to produce a story for the morning edition.
    It’s ruining your new shoes when you’re called out of the office to report a flood, a fire, or a mudslide and getting a flat tire while on your way to the back of beyond to interview someone “getting away from it all.”
    It’s making people cry, getting yelled out, being threatened.
    But it’s also being told that a story you wrote about an elderly man is being saved by the family to read at his memorial – it was that good.
    It’s getting hugs from total strangers, because talking to you made them feel that happy.
    It’s having children swarm you at schools and playgrounds, too young to be jaded about the news media, screaming “Am I gonna be in the paper?”
    It’s being stopped at the grocery store, the doctor’s office, the gym, to be told how much someone enjoyed an article that helped them really understand something they hadn’t before.
    It’s the little notes left on your desk, ‘atta-boy’ messages from readers letting you know that you did something right.
    It’s being told by someone in a highly specialized complex field that you just wrote the best story about that highly specialized complex field they had ever read and they appreciated the time you took to get it right.
    It’s hearing that you made someone laugh, think about a subject in a new light or have a better understanding.
    It’s giving a grandma a reason to clip out a photo from the newspaper.
    You must have thick skin to deal with all the criticism, the new acquaintance said.
    It didn’t start out that way but yes, it’s pretty thick – if full of holes where the good stuff gets in.

  16. Community newspapers manner in so many ways, but the most important way they matter is that they listen to their communities.
    Here at the Carolina Forest Chronicle just outside Myrtle Beach, S.C., we cover a wide variety of stories, but every day we try to report news that matters to our readers. We learn what matters by listening to our readers, by attending community functions (even if there’s not reason to do so other than to mingle) and by keeping our attention local, local, local.

    Not long ago, another member of the media asked me why don’t we cover Myrtle Beach football. Carolina Forest is only a few miles away and there are people who might be interested in reading about Myrtle Beach. My answer to that is community newspapers shouldn’t cover what we think people might want to read, we should cover what we know they will read. Since our newspaper’s founding four years ago, the number one compliment we always hear about the Chronicle is that the newspaper is about them. From news to sports to features, Carolina Forest comes first. Covering something just because someone might be interested in it isn’t community journalism; it’s what newspapers that aren’t connected to their communities do.

    While metro papers and television stations often balk at covering groundbreakings, grand openings and scholarship signings, we consider such events to be the essence of community journalism. We are advocates of the community, not slaves to journalism ideology. Our experiences have shown us that readers want clippings to hang on their refrigerators or stick in their scrapbook. They still want the news, and with the Internet and social media we’re able to break our fair share of stories. More than that, they want the news placed in its proper perspective. They want the details they can’t get in a 20 inch story trimmed to 10 inches in the metro daily. People turn to us for answers because they know we have the time and willingness to find answers for them.

    My name is Michael Smith. I’m the editor of the Carolina Forest Chronicle, a weekly newspaper in South Carolina. We are located between Conway and Myrtle Beach.

  17. The community newspaper model can be the future of the information business. We need to untie ourselves from the notion that it must be only in newsprint, because the convenience and efficiency of online should be embraced, not feared.
    A good community newspaper has been an interactive communication device years and years before Al Gore tried to lay claim to the World Wide Web.
    At the Mt. Pleasant News in southeast Iowa, we still have community “correspondents” providing us some “chicken dinner news.” We welcome 4-H Club reports, club news, folks who call in their birthdays and anniversaries to see them “in the paper.” How’s that compare to online posting, uploading, blogging and the like? Pretty well, and we want to get those club notes online along with the posts and photo uploads — and the posts and uploads into print.
    If we do this right, print newspapers get better as we share the information between the information platforms!

  18. Why are community newspapers important?
    • We are trendsetters: We were the originators of “hyper local news” before journalism professors woke up one day and thought they invented it.
    • We are sensitive. Face it, we tend to gush about our communities, but we’re also unafraid to cry in our editorials, laugh at ourselves and our community’s foibles, fume at our local injustices and burst with pride at local deeds done well. Don’t want to show your emotions? Don’t work at a community newspapers!
    • We are the model in simple economics. The White House and Wall Street need to look at locally-owned, community newspapers for advice. By our own nature, we strive to be thrifty yet charitable to our communities; driven by economic common sense, not government support; realistic about our expectations, not bloated profit statements; and fueled solely by local support, not subsidized by corporate interests.
    • We give a hoot about our people! Go into any community newspaper office and you’ll find a publisher who likely is president of the chamber of commerce, a reporter who is a member of the local recreation commission, an office clerk who is a Sunday School teacher, or mail room employee who donates his latest deer kill to the community food bank.
    • We matter! Drive past a community newspaper at the very hour when the issue is ready to hit the streets, and you’ll find loyal readers sitting in their cars with quarters in their hand, waiting for the newspaper employee to fill the newspaper vending machine with the latest issue. Got to any local school, and you’ll find grade school kids who look at a newspaper photographer as a local celebrity. Talk to any local organization that hosts a big fundraiser event and you’ll find a community’s response to that event — primarily because the local newspaper promoted that event’s details (for free, of course) . . . on page one . . . or for several weeks in a row.

    — Andy Taylor, editor
    Montgomery County Chronicle
    Caney, Kan. • Cherryvale, Kan.

  19. I believe community journalism is the best for many reasons. Only in community journalism do grade school children find their name in print – each year I print ‘Dear Santa letters’ or ‘Thanksgiving means to me’ essays. There hasn’t been a senior athlete who hasn’t had their picture printed in my newspaper at least once (even if they only played a few minutes)
    We’re the only ones who print “Aunt Evelyn visited her niece and husband, Betty Jane and Bill Blanchard.”
    I am constantly getting a picture of a grandchild who lives in the city and am expected to print the picture of junior and his great accomplishment – an accomplishment not significant enough for his/her daily hometown paper, but good enough for grandma’s paper – plus it gives grandma bragging rights for a week or two at the club.
    While ‘city folk’ might think this is not real journalism and meaningless, it is the lifeblood of the community. We are the means for people to keep up with what is going on in their home town. In rural Missouri, we have lost a lot of employment and people have had to move out of the area. This is how they keep track of their family and friends. We are the ones to introduce the school board candidates to the voters, the ones who explain why the city aldermen did what they did (or just what they did).
    What we aren’t is the sensationalism journalism, the one out to get the shock value. We only want to print the good news, not the negative, we are the one who leads the fundraising events for the school, PTO groups, saddle clubs, etc. often with donated ad space. I would like to see the elementary PTO president get an ad donated by the Kansas City Star.
    And in the end, community journalism doesn’t make the headlines like the Star and so many other newspapers who are struggling financially. We are the ones who ‘bootstrap’ our papers, dig into the trenches a little deeper, and people don’t hear about our financial difficulties, because, quite frankly, we’ve earned our advertisers’ respect and our readers’ loyalty. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

  20. Tasha Webster
    Circulation/Billing Director
    The Herald-Gazette
    Barnesville, Georgia

    Community newspapers are the glue that connects readers to their town. I am so proud to be a part of our locally owned newspaper because readers know they can rely on us to inform them of news and events that directly affect them. Where else can you read honor rolls, students of the month, sports and local merchants’ downtown events in one place? Your local community newspaper, that’s where!

  21. When staff from large city newspapers look at our publication, they ask why would you cover a bake sale that was raising money for a community project? That’s not news.
    It is if you are a small town newspaper.
    I am proud to be the Publisher of The Minnedosa Tribune, which has published weekly since March 1883.Our newspaper actually predates the incorporation of our town and has kept our citizens informed on local happenings for close to 130 years! Our focus continues to be local happenings, covering everything from district reports that inform our readers who visited who over the past week to a local police report which identifies our local detachment’s “Speeder of the Week.”
    A popular local saying is “If you live in Minnedosa, you are going to end up in The Tribune at least once during your lifetime.” We are like a local history book which adds a new chapter every week, reporting the happenings of our community.
    My first appearance in our paper was my birth announcement back in early 1979. I also remember being pictured in the paper as a young boy sitting on my grandparent’s giant pumkpin and the pride I felt seeing my picture and reading my Christmas story in the Christmas edition when I was in Grade One.
    My career with The Tribune began when I spent a week here as a high school student during our work experience program. Two years later, I was called in for a job interview and was hired on as reporter/photographer. It has now been 10 and a half years since I was first hired on as The Tribune’s reporter and I have built my way up to owner and publisher of this historic weekly newspaper.
    In addition to myself as publisher/editor, we also employ one reporter/photographer, a graphic designer and an office administrator.
    Although we are only four people in The Tribune’s history, we are proud to keep this old girl running and from what we hear from our readers, they still enjoy the LOCAL focus of our newspaper.
    Community newspapers are the heart of small towns! Hats off to all who own, work at or support community newspapers!

  22. Anonymous

    I was raised in a family newspaper business. I am 57 years old, and my parents are still running our family newspaper back home. Mom is 84 and Dad is 86. He didn’t have anyone to run the route with him this week so my Mom told me he did it himself (my son usually offers but he was working two jobs). I was worried and said maybe she could just touch base with me to tell me he made it back OK and she admonished me with “what, you think we’re old or something??”

    They just celebrated the newspaper’s 50th anniversary on October 12.
    I became involved in the business when I was 7. We were a letterpress shop then (I have enough exposure to lead to become my own Superfund site) and included in my spelling lessons was time spent hand-setting headlines from a California Job Case in a stick, reading right-to-left, bottom to top.

    Their town council (my Dad was the town’s first mayor and principal player in its incorporation in the late 1950s) made October 12 a day commemorated to them. I am so happy for my parents … all that hard work has at least been acknowledged. I called my Mom yesterday and the first thing she said was how many congratulations they are still receiving, weeks after the event. They are truly blessed.

    That they sustain the newspaper and, in turn, the newspaper receives so much support from the community that it sustains them, is testimony that community newspapers are here to stay.

    Another fact worthy of note: Their newspaper surrounds a city of 60,000 and the city’s daily newspaper has dwindled in size to a fraction of what it was 10 years ago. AND that daily newspaper was a printer for USA Today for most of the past 30 years. Even advertisers in rural communities realize that their advertising dollar is better spent with the established media, which in my youth was the local daily newspaper, but today that the role has often been reversed and it is now the local weekly newspaper.

    How blessed my parents are that they have lived to see that happen.

  23. Addendum:

    When I was writing this tribute to my folks last night I was thinking of their privacy and chose not to give out their names or the name of the newspaper. After reading some of the other submissions in this section of Ed’s blog, I decided that they should be recognized. My folks, Frank and Betty Stumbo, are in Ontario, Ohio, and are the owner/publishers of the Tribune-Courier ( My son, Ian Stumbo, is very close to his grandparents and helps out at the T-C whenever he can, usually taking the passenger seat in my Dad’s truck (the very seat I occupied for many years) as they take the paper around to the local retail sellers, many of whom have sold the T-C for decades.

    The paper started out as the Ontario Tribune on 10/12/61. In 1967 they started a weekly in Lexington, a town just south of Mansfield, home of the local daily newspaper, the Mansfield News-Journal (now a Gannett publication), and named it the Lexington Courier. In 1980, Madison Township (the remaining township around Mansfield to the south, east and north) had no newspaper, so my parents decided to start the Madison Tribune. The Lexington Tribune merged with the Ontario Tribune to become the Tribune-Courier and eventually the Madison Tribune merged with the T-C as well.

    I thought our old hot type shop was the coolest place ever (it was an old machine shop and was 12 degrees in the winter and 120 degrees in the summer) and never realized what a hardship it was for my parents to start a newspaper in the waning days of letterpress technology. Our Miehle press was built in the late 1890s and our pressman used to moonlight on Wednesday nights to run our paper; I remember him standing atop the wooden platform hand-feeding the 4-page broadsheet-sized sheets of paper into the press (which they had to gather, stack, flip, lift back up to the Miehle flatbed and hand-feed again to print the other side). Then after that the stack had to be hand-carried to the folder where it was, well … folded. My job at the press was to scream “work-up” when I saw that a lead or thin spacer had “worked-up” (moved up in the chase as to be so high that it was being printed) or that a slug had worked-up higher than type-high so that it was being printed darker than the rest of the lines of type. The pressman stopped the press until the errant slug was pounded down to meet the “type-high spec.” What a great lesson in visual acuity. One of my other jobs was to catch the folded newspapers at the end of the folder and stack them in neat stacks for addressing, which (imagine that) was also done by hand using metal Addressograph plates) on a hand-stamping machine (my job at a much later date…).

    I was 12 when we went offset in 1967. To me, being able to print out type on a Just-O-Writer, cut and paste it on a piece of paper and then take it somewhere to have it photographed onto a negative and then burned to a plate was just nothing short of magic. My parents were one of the first users of the IBM strike-on magnetic tape system in 1968, and in 1980 switched to using Compugraphics to set their type. The IBM system cost around $50,000 in 1968 dollars, the Compugraphic system was close to 30K in 1980 dollars … how they did that I have no idea. Today we complain that a high-end Mac costs $3,000 (in today’s dollars). There’s really no comparison.

    My Mom was an excellent Linotype operator (primarily on the Model 5 with some time spent on the Model 14) and could hang lines with the best of them (ask a former Linotype operator what that means). She was starting to teach me the Lino keyboard in 1967 when we went offset. She has been the CFO since Day 1 and has kept the business solvent for a half century. My Dad writes his Scribbles & Comments column every week, commenting on, well … everything (nothing is out-of-bounds). His vision when he was 36 was to serve our community (now several communities) with honest reporting and integrity in journalism, and most importantly give the people a voice. I’m thinkin’ he’s done that.

    Rarely do I use my Mac that I don’t think of how difficult (or in most cases impossible) it was to do what I can do today with a simple click of the mouse.

    My parents’ definition of success would probably not be the same as most people’s, but theirs is clearly a success story about which I am sure no one could argue.

  24. Ours are local community newspapers, including The Enterprise, which has been published since 1887. The paper is the one thing that the entire community can connect with. We cover the schools, sports, government, businesses and so much more. Local news coverage is important to every community as it reports what is going on that will directly effect the citizens. You cannot find hands-on local journalism anywhere else. Community Newspapers rule!

  25. As the news editor of two community newspapers in suburban Boston, its easy to see the value our papers bring to the communities we serve. Our reporters live in our communities, become part of the fabric of the community, and share the ups and downs of our readers. We see children grow up and we document their triumphs from birth to honor roll to community service, graduation, promotions, weddings and more. We scrutinize local politicians, question state and national representatives on issues that affect our towns directly, and hold government accountable. Property taxes in a community support local schools, local government and the everyday lives of our readers. Only a community newspaper can offer the accountability that regional or city papers lack. Our editorial pages, chock full of letters to the editor, prove it.

    Our readers also learn more about their towns just by reading the few things that matter more, because we juxtapose the library events article next to the church fair press release and above the Eagle Scout project. We are a connection for the elderly looking for activities. Our elementary school students are thrilled to see their picture in the paper with school events. Our teens are thrilled when they see their name for honor roll or a photo from a school play.

    We are also the newspaper of record in these communities, documenting the lives and issues facing residents for generations. Want to understand a community better? Read its local paper, then get involved.

  26. Community newspapers matter because who else is telling the stories of those who make a community run? We not only keep up with local government and hard news, but also with schools, student activities, organizations, interesting characters and the intricacies that make a small town tick. We also give the local small businesses a place to promote their services and reach their local customers.

    Community newspapers matter because we are local names and local faces.

  27. With experience at several community newspapers, I can tell you a few nuggets of truth:
    1. Journalists are taught to avoid cliche, but the cliche works every time in a small town. Readers just love it.
    2. Conversely, that incredibly creative and original prose will most likely go unnoticed.
    3. You don’t get to write about things like the “city hall cat” working at the big papers.
    4. There is a retired English teacher in every town who is happy to help point out grammatical errors in your writing (usually anonymously) – including incorrectly pointing out Style Book errors.
    5. Nothing you learn in journalism school will properly prepare you to deal with all of the real people you will meet working for a community newspaper. It is about understanding THE PEOPLE more than understanding the journalism.

    Steven Fox
    Ferris State University
    Assistant Professor
    Torch Adviser

  28. Community newspapers are a scrapbook of the communities they cover – schools, local government, features, business, family life, growth (or not), and so much more.
    The stories in a community newspaper are likely to be more fair and more accurate because the people who write them have relationship with and knowledge of their readership. They have a vested interest in the community for which they write.

  29. I am the Editor of the Jefferson Jimplecute….a small town in East Texas’ community newspaper. We share the stories of the people who live and work here, from the city council to the history of the bed and breakfast owners to the kids in school.
    Community newspapers tell the stories that USA Today and The New York Times don’t…they tell the community’s story from INSIDE the community. While yes, you may find the obituaries or major crimes or happenings…you wont find the heart of the towns or the people.
    We share the school happenings, brag about LOCAL sports players, and let the community know what is happening RIGHT here where they live, not somewhere out in the world.
    As a journalist, I have worked in this business for over four years, and I take each story personally – I WANT and HAVE to share it accurately. I dont care for yellow journalism. I dont need it. I work for a community newspaper that sells papers to people who want to hear the truth about the situations, not some fabricated story just to sell papers. THAT is what community newspapers do…they give the real-life view of the community from INSIDE it.

  30. Who else is going to cover the local city council meetings, the commissioners’ court meetings or the school board meetings? Where are you going to find the picture of your son playing middle school football or your daughter scoring two points in her first basketball game? When is the third grade Christmas play or the annual local festival? Why did our property taxes increase? What would happen to the history of our community if the newspaper didn’t print a record? How did we know about Uncle Edgar death? All of this came from community newspapers. USA Today, the Washington Post, the New York Times, even the San Angelo Standard-Times, they don’t print the issues that affect our local community. We work 60, 70, 80 hours because we want to keep our local, elected officials on their toes when they vote. We want to publish Johnny’s first touchdown as a Lion. We want to keep weddings, obituaries, birth announcements and the local festival a part of our town. We are the community’s main source of news when a crisis happens, or when the football team wins a state championship. Community newspapers are at the forefront of journalism, not the bottom of the barrel. Without community newspapers, there wouldn’t be local news.

  31. M.G. Noterman

    I am publisher, owner, ace reporter (“ace” means only), one of two photographers for my 8-page weekly, The Monitor Review, that covers the news in Adams, MN and Stacyville, IA.
    In real life, I work in the world of K-12 education (that’s my full-time job).
    We stumbled into this venture, starting as writers, and when the owner unexpectedly died, we bought it.
    People love our paper. We know love doesn’t pay the bills so it’s a struggle.
    But our patrons want to see their kids, the high school sports teams, the group shots of the teams, the clubs, the preschoolers (yep, grip and grin all over the place), and want to read about who had lunch with so-and-so.
    And that’s what we give them. Lots of pictures and as many stories (and bowling scores and nursing home news (who hosted bingo and who served the popcorn) and the births, obits,and bridal showers as we can fit into the paper each week.
    Community means local. We keep it super-duper-local – never national news or even state news or even big city news unless it has a local connection to it.
    That’s why people love it.
    We’ll see how we survive because, as you all know, it’s not easy.

  32. We cannot give readers (unless there’s a tidal surge of advertising flowing through the front door!) a feast of national and world news, but what we can – and do – deliver is a steady flow of news, features and information (translate that as local ads, if you wish) gathered, written and compiled by professionals trained in the business. It’s not the occasional iReport. It’s not the “Hey, Martha!” story that makes for thousands or even millions of YouTube hits. It’s not the latest antics of some pop star or starlet. It’s what is important to residents: delivering to them on a daily basis what affects their lives, their pocketbooks. From the color photo of their children performing in a school play to their councilmembers voting to raise their taxes, we give them what shapes and has an impact on their lives. Nothing else comes close, not even the annoying online-only news sources that pop up in a community and portend – make that pretend – to be a thorough news source.

  33. Community newspapers give residents the vital information they need to know about their town. Are taxes going up? Is a business closing? Who are the candidates for school board? The sensational – corruption in City Hall, murder in the park, football coach arrested – make the daily papers, but community papers provide the “nuts and bolts” information about a community. They also provide the scrapbook clippings – honor rolls, play performances and business promotions – the things that can put a smile on a parent or grandparent’s face. They are a necessary part of a community.

  34. John Erickson

    I’ll let one of our subscribers speak to the importance of community newspapers. We received her email just this week.

    Dear Editor,
    A friend of mine in Bridgeport subscribed to your newspaper for me (I live in New Hampshire), so I could read things about his community.
    I have been very impressed with the excellent coverage and great pictures of your sports teams in Bridgeport. Our son coaches many high school sports teams here in New Hampshire, so I guess that makes me appreciate them even more.
    I also always enjoy reading the Family Life pages, which continually have information on things I am interested in. The article in your November 30th paper on, “Tips and Resources for Long-Distance Caregivers” contained such a wealth of information.
    Sometimes I think I read your paper more thoroughly than my own local newspaper.
    Keep up the good work.
    Meri Langevin
    Concord, NH

  35. Marcus Fitzsimmons
    Multiplatform Editor
    The Daily Times
    Maryville, Tenn.

    As yet another round of layoffs hit our big city brethren and they close up another of their satellite try-to-be-community-papers, it leaves me pondering the community newspaper.

    The small town daily or weekly has a niche that no technology (so far) can take away or fill, and that’s the news of what’s happening down the street and at the courthouse and over at the ball field. It’s the news you can’t get on tv, can’t find on your smartphone no matter the app, because it comes from one place – the local paper. Without that paper, there is no news of that area for the Internet to regurgitate and circulate, there is no 15-inch feature for the late tv news to paraphrase down to 45 seconds.

    Those small papers may not be able to do what they once did staff-wise, as the ownership consolidation of the 80s means a lot of them answer monetarily to someone out of town, but we counterbalance that with how much more one person can do now through the technology that is supposedly killing us.

    As long as we stick to and fulfill our mission of serving our readers, we will survive and may one day thrive again in the vacuums left by the ever-constricting metros. The good staff they shed may even help develop where the community paper goes from here, as those newly-unemployed latch on at smaller papers or launch out on their own ventures of local Internet news.

    It is a greater challenge to serve the smaller community of readers, to find the truth from the gossip, to write the fresh lead for readers who remember what you used not just last year but a decade ago, to adequately condense the history of events for readers who have no fear of correcting your errors face-to-face at the gas station, diner and parking lot, and who may take great glee in circling the typos and sending them back to you, and asking for free extensions to subscriptions as compensation.

    To keep your sources unburned, your professionalism unbent, your fire for the job constantly fueled, your education, diversity and knowledge on multiple topics and beats current, your readers informed without over-concern to their happiness in this environment; these are the matters that make or break a good community journalist and make the staff of these publications a mix of some of the best, worst, youngest and oldest in the field.

    What criteria we use for our news judgement, how often we publish, what size of paper, how much we put online, may vary from one to the next, but the mission remains the same—serving OUR readers the best that we can by bringing them all the news ’round here fit to print.

  36. Hi Ed: Thanks for getting the ball rolling on this. It’s a great forum to read inspiring stories about the love of our life, and to make us think about our own role in that love affair.

    Basically, what you are doing on your blog is what community newspapers do, too — hold a conversation.

    And it’s not a conversation between the newspaper and the community, but rather an invitation for the community to have a conversation with itself. Sometimes that takes a simple request, like you used here, or sometimes it takes a gentle goad. Very rarely, the community needs to be prodded hard to talk about vital issues.

    But in all cases, a community paper that is worthy of the name is filled with hopes and dreams, pet peeves and philosophy, kids and old people, county fairs and local colleges, planning and zoning, holiday greetings, letters from readers, plenty of pictures with lots of local faces, schools and churches, fund-raisers and festivals, crime and justice, comics and puzzles, and all the sports that you can possibly fit.

    That, of course, is all just the start — the raw material that makes the community newspaper take on its most important role — as the glue that holds a community together, the common identity that is reflected back to each one of us — the conscience, the history and the future of our hometowns.

    Community newspapers cannot die — because if they do, then America will have lost its heart.

  37. Ben

    Rather than preach to the choir about why community newspapers matter so much, consider this: Remember the outrage over city council members and other public officials making million-dollar salaries in that small California city near LA? That never, ever could have happened if a community newspaper existed there and included the city’s budget, etc., as part of its reporting. (Or if the LA Times hadn’t had its newsroom slashed to the point of ineffectiveness.) As the publisher of a community newspaper, I know I literally drooled at the prospect of breaking such an unbelievable story, as each of you did, I’m sure. For whatever shortcomings we are perceived to have, every person in your community should know and appreciate the watchdog approach we have over local politicians. If they have neither, you’re not doing a good enough job telling them.

    PS: Remember the fun (and remarkable challenge) we had when redesigning that newspaper in Shallotte, NC?

  38. Sir,
    I’m Jeff Bryan, editor for the Riverland News in Dunnellon, Fla. I’ve served in this role for the past 16-plus months, having for the most part of my brief career working for community newspapers. However, this is the first time I’ve been called editor. I believe the biggest asset a community newspaper provides to small communities is when the “local newspaper guy or gal” connects with the community in a way that they are not considered just the “newspaper guy or gal.” In the short time I’ve been editor here, I’ve learned more about what a “community” newspaper means to a community. Being out, being seen, being able to talk shop with folks or have that cup of coffee with them at the local doughnut shop. I would not trade the experience of my current role for anything else. This is why the bigger newspapers are struggling. They need a connection with their community, they need to eat, shop and “live” in the community. When they realize this, perhaps then can they be successful.

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