Rural journalism

The paper’s on the roof? Here’s what you’re missing

You can read this on two levels. Scott Hollifield, editor of a small community daily in North Carolina, writes an entertaining column about what happens when his neighbor’s paper ends up on her roof. It’s a fun read as he takes you through what she’ll miss if she never sees that paper – everything from a local crime story to feature pictures of a circus train coming through town to her horoscope to the daily adventures of Snuffy Smith (If you’re under 30, don’t even try to understand who that is). In other words, as he was looking at his neighbor’s paper on the roof, he wasn’t looking at a delivery snafu … he was looking at a slice of community life his neighbor would never experience unless he got his circulation folk to deliver another paper. The column is a fun read, but it reminds us of what we’re all about – we are not just producing a product for profit, we are also chronicling the life of a community. And with every edition, we need to prepare a one-minute elevator speech that goes something like this: “Did you see today’s/yesterday’s paper? Then here’s what you missed: “We told you why our schools are cutting three positions from the teaching faculty, we showed you some great images of Pastor Jackson helping his kids build a snowman, we printed several letters of people sniping at each other about moving the date of the county fair, we provided the only pre-season rundown of the girls’ basketball team written anywhere in the world and we gave you enough ads to save you thousands of dollars. And that’s just for starters….” In other words, what we’re doing matters to the community. And like this editor in North Carolina, we need to tell our readers what they’re missing when they miss the paper.

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.