Community newspapers: An important part of Thanksgiving table-talk

At many Thanksgiving tables, family members take turns sharing what they are most thankful for.

The items listed are pretty typical, from the wise guy’s “I’m thankful I’m not the turkey” to appreciation directed at everyone from God to teachers to those in the armed services.

But nobody ever says they are thankful for the electric company or the gas company or the water and sewer department.  Those utilities are important – indeed, necessary to the Thanksgiving experience – but their service is so integral to our lives that they go unnoticed.

Newspapers are a lot like that.

No one will say they’re thankful for the local newspaper on Thursday (unless, maybe, they are employed by that paper). And that’s because we have made ourselves essential to the functioning of our communities.

  • We bought Thanksgiving dinner after scanning the local grocery ads for the best buys.
  • We schedule dinner around parades and football because we saw the starting time in the paper.
  • Our table-talk is informed by the news and sports and features we read in the paper.
  • Hanging on the refrigerator is a picture from a school play or a high school football game, clipped from the newspaper.
  • We talk about the black Friday or brown Thursday sales we plan to hit, and somebody asks when the stores open.  The reply:  “Let’s check the paper after lunch.”
  • Two brothers-in-law get into an argument about an upcoming liquor election before grandma admonishes them not to argue at the table.  Both were basing their positions on stories they read in last week’s paper.
  • Someone mentions that the neighbors have something to be thankful for – they found their lost dog when someone responded to their classified ad in the paper.
  • The hostess brings out the desserts and the hands-down crowd favorite is the pumpkin pie cobbler. Of course.  She got the recipe from last week’s newspaper.

The community newspaper has become as much a part of life as the electric company — so woven into the fabric of our week that people are unaware of the source of much of the information that powers their lives.

But there’s one significant difference between newspapers and utilities – the utilities don’t speak truth to power and hold public officials accountable and analyze budgets and ask hard questions.

Newspapers do.  Week after week.

So do newspapers resent being left out of the round of thankful-fors at the dinner table?  Not at all. We know our role is to support the life of the community by providing news, information and entertainment.

We think we do that well.  And we’re thankful for the opportunity.

By Kathryn Jones Malone

Kathryn Jones Malone is co-director of the Texas Center for Community Journalism. She began her career as a staff writer at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, then worked as a staff writer for the Dallas Times Herald and The Dallas Morning News; as a contract writer for The New York Times; as a writer-at-large for Texas Monthly magazine; as editor of the Glen Rose Reporter; and as a freelance writer for numerous state, regional and national magazines. She teaches journalism at Tarleton State University.