A welcome dose of reality

Two weeks ago we published a blank front page, with the message: “Imagine there’s no local newspaper?”

The message resonated with people in the New Prague area. In addition to the letters to the editor that were printed last week, we had several phone calls and staff members have had people stopping them in public to mention how much they appreciated our coverage of local events and agreeing with the message our front page sent. Many people also left positive comments on Facebook as well.

More than 200 Minnesota newspapers took part in the Whiteout project. Our hope was to send a message, and it appears we did just that.

If you notice on our front page, this week’s edition of The Times is Volume 128, Number 52. Our first issue was published on September 6, 1889. This week’s paper concludes the newspaper’s 128th year. I’ve been lucky enough to have been a part of The Times for 25 years, from 1990 to 1999 and again since 2002. Next month, I’ll be starting my 30th year total in the newspaper business.

This is not something I set out to do. I graduated from college with a social studies teaching degree and after a couple years as a substitute teacher, I went back to school to study English, hoping to teach that subject as well, honing my writing skills in the process. I did teach for three years, but the late 1980s was a tough time to find a teaching job and when I was laid off, I was lucky enough to “fall into” the newspaper business.

The job has long hours, but there are many things I Iove about being a community newspaper editor. One of them is meeting the many people who make up our community. Everyone has a story to tell, and I’ve had a chance to help many people tell their stories. I’ve enjoyed covering new businesses, school activities and sports, city council and school board meetings and elections. The church festival and county fair season is nearing a completion and right now, I’m getting ready to cover my 25th Dozinky Festival.

Of course, not everything we cover is good news. I’ve covered more than my share of crashes, crimes, storm damage and untimely deaths. Sometimes, our coverage of these tragedies is when we do our most important work. I know I’ve gotten better at covering them over the years, but it is never easy. Our coverage can help people come to terms with these events. This hit home last month when Jenny’s cousin, who lives in a small town outside of Indianapolis, lost a son in a car crash. Riley was getting ready for his senior year of high school when a truck he was riding in collided with a tractor at a rural intersection. The local newspaper did a great job of telling everyone about this young man, a three-sport athlete who participated in 4-H and always had a smile for everyone. I looked at the coverage online and emailed the reporter who wrote the story complimenting her on a job well done. She sent a note of thanks and said many of the newspaper staff knew the family and shared the family’s grief over the crash. She added that the coverage of the accident in their daily newspaper was “truly a team effort.”

That last phrase is one more thing I want to mention - a team effort. I, as managing editor, and Patrick Fisher as staff writer, are probably the most visible employees of this newspaper. But we have many other people - office staff, advertising sales, production, bookkeeping, print shop employees and more - who work together to put this paper together each week. Everyone plays an important role, and each of us helps make the paper stronger.

That brings me to a quote that I saw just after our “Whiteout” page came out. It was from Frank Rispoli, director of News Voices: New Jersey, talking about community journalism:

“People rely on locally produced news and information to engage with their neighbors, learn about volunteer opportunities, make decisions about voting, run for public office, get information about small businesses and support their children in local schools.”

In a time when many people want to call out the traditional media, using the term “Fake News,” I’d like to think community newspapers offer a welcome dose of reality.

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