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COMMUNITY CHRONICLED IN NEWSPAPERS

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By Melissa Blankenship

When I was a little girl, my family lived close enough to town that I could walk to the grocery store. One summer day, my sister and I decided to walk to the store for ice cream and took our dog, Hobo, with us. Hobo soon got hot and tired and demanded he be carried the rest of the way.

Apparently a reporter for our small town newspaper found it amusing. He took a picture of us and stopped to ask us our names. My sister and I giggled about the experience and continued on our way, not really understanding why the man cared at all. Little did we know the effects that chance encounter would have on our family.

The image of two little girls, the oldest carrying the family dog, appeared in our small town’s newspaper with the headline, “Dog days of summer.” The man who had taken our picture wrote a caption that explained what we were doing and why and who we were, including our parents’ names.

WE WERE FAMOUS!

People in town stopped us to ask if we were the girls in the picture in the paper with that dog, remarking on what a cute picture it was. Our extended family in the area called to jokingly ask for our autographs. My mother must have purchased 50 copies of the paper to send to relatives in North Carolina. And when school started back in the fall, the entire newspaper page that featured us and Hobo appeared on the bulletin board in the hallway. A clipping of that photo is prominently displayed in our family album, along with baby photos, reunion pictures and the shot of me grinning ear to ear with my first fish.

Two girls walking to the store for ice cream was of no particular significance to most people, but to me and my sister and our family, it meant a great deal. It meant we were part of the small town in which we lived.

When I first began working at a community newspaper, I was told that the former editor (who had basically run the paper into the ground and lacked respect throughout the community) had once said that the purpose of a community newspaper “is not to fill people’s scrapbooks.” In one sense I agree, it is not our place to determine what goes in your scrapbook.

Our place in your community is to BE your scrapbook, among other things.

Community newspapers are about the first day of school, the football game Friday night and who was crowned queen of the county fair. We also serve as your eyes and ears, attending school board, city and county government meetings when you can’t be there, to keep you informed of the actions taken and how they might impact you and your family. We report on crime and follow up through the court system to let you know the outcome. We introduce you to your neighbors who have extraordinary stories to tell or amazing talents to share. We provide you with a forum to voice your opinion.

We don’t make the news, we report it. And we take our job very seriously. We work hard to report accurately and fairly, providing a variety of news stories that will appeal to all of our readership. We feel it is our duty to serve our communities to the best of our abilities, because we are part of the community. We care.

Can we be at every event? Probably not.

As an industry, have we struggled to be innovative? Probably so, but we are gaining ground there.

Does it matter if you sit down with our paper product, pull it up on the computer at work, cruise through our content on your tablet or even scroll through our top news stories on your smartphone using our new mobile version? Nope, it’s all the same.

Thank you for reading the paper, however you access it and enjoy it. Thank you for providing us not only with a purpose and responsibility, but with the content we need to fill that white space on the page each week. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of this community.

And thank you for using our pages to fill your scrapbooks…or create posts on your facebook pages, or give you something to tweet about.

 

Email Melissa about this column at publisher@oldhamera.com.