To my way of thinking, community newspapers, the heartbeat of American journalism, have been the saving grace, the silver lining of an otherwise volatile media landscape after the bottom fell out in ’08.
Community papers endured, weathered, survived — and in many cases thrived.
Don’t you wonder, why is that? What are the community newspapers doing right that the big guys are missing?
I’ll come to that in a minute.
First, what were many of the big guys doing wrong?
Raleigh News & Observer opinion editor Ned Barnette, writing in the May 3 N & O, under the headline “Newspapers shrink, but survive,” notes how large media companies (his parent company, McClatchy, included) got underwater in the early 2000s saddled by corporate debt — and I would add: investor greed.
Big newspapers made and make money, but much of it went – and still goes – to paying down debts, and to mollify out-of-town investors who don’t give a fig about the communities these newspapers serve.
Which brings us to our main message, the so-called “nut graph.”
Community newspapers survived, are surviving and will survive – because they serve, because small is beautiful and because local is the only game in town.
And weeklies, so called non-dailies, can pack their pages with all local news, photos, features, arts and entertainment, obits, weddings, engagements, first birthdays, check presentations, opinions, and ads – and never leave the community.
Community newspapers survive and thrive because of the SERVICE IMPERATIVE, a core working principal of their business plan, not an afterthought or add-on.
So take heart, young friends. You are entering a noble profession. No, you will not likely get rich doing community journalism; much like teaching, it is a calling, some call a sacred calling.
But you will be rich in experience, rich in meaningful relationships, and rich in the satisfaction of seeing how one person – you – can make a powerful difference for good in this sad old fractured world of ours.
You will see that when you help people tell their stories, when you give them a VOICE, that you are helping to build COMMUNITY, that most valued, elusive and precious of assets that a healthy society can possess.
For then, residents become citizens, strangers become friends, and people become stakeholders, engaged in the maintenance of their own civic affairs.
“Our most important job,” one enlightened community newspaper publisher told me,”…is to convince ordinary people that their lives matter!”
Let me close with another great quite, this one from the late great speaker of the house Sam Rayburn who said, “Any mule can kick down his barn. It takes a carpenter to BUILD one.”
Long live community journalism! Let’s get busy.