I recall reading with some interest Stephanie Filson’s editorial a couple of weeks ago on changes taking place in the newspaper business, particularly the Ohio Valley Publishing Company newspapers.
Although it has only been a dozen or so years ago since I last worked for the newspaper, seeing all the changes that have taken place in the newspaper industry it seems like a lifetime ago. It wasn’t exactly the Stone Age – we did have computers – but it might as well have been, there were no cell phones and no internet (although that technology was waiting in the wings) and digital cameras were more of a novelty. Now I can’t recall the last time I actually shot a photo with 35 millimeter film.
In a real sense I was one of the last of the old-school journalism school graduates; our Introduction to News Writing assignments were written on electric typewriters and then proofread by hand, the papers covered with red lines and squiggles, and the occasional “F” that automatically resulted whenever we misspelled a proper noun.
Then along came the internet. At first it was sort of a novelty, popular with only a few people, but it didn’t take long until it became an everyday source of news and information for the masses. Newspapers both big and small were left reeling like mugging victims, and they really haven’t adjusted or discovered their niche in this internet age. Newspapers were already hurting, even before the economy went down the drain, and it isn’t going to get better until they rediscover their place in the world.
I have always thought our corner of southeastern Ohio and West Virginia was very fortunate to be served by daily newspapers, and I mourned the loss of the Monday paper — even though I remember that filling that Monday paper with news was occasionally a struggle. Most areas like ours are lucky if they have a semiweekly or weekly publication.
It seems like people have lost that connection with their local newspapers. “Back in the day” it seemed more like the newspaper was “your” newspaper. The readership to a large extent determined what was in there, from the news from outlying communities like Alfred and Harrisonville, to family reunions, birthday parties and club and organization meetings, all submitted by community members.
These “country correspondents” played an important role in sharing information from little communities like Laurel Cliff, Forest Run, Hemlock Grove, Wolf Pen and Reedsville. Things like graduations, vacations, visits and births, from people in the community or their children or grandchildren now residing elsewhere were regular features in these columns. It allowed people to stay in touch with their friends and neighbors and with those who had moved away, long before internet social networking was dreamt of or invented.
In the outdoors arena, people would frequently submit “first deer” photos or even stop by the office with a trophy deer in the back of their pickup truck so I could take a photo of it for the newspaper.
Some of us might have chuckled at reading news like “Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so entertained visitors from Columbus,” but nonetheless we still read it. In a very real sense those communities died a little bit when the community correspondents went away. I bet you have a scrapbook somewhere in your house full of newspaper clippings; Facebook status updates aren’t quite the same.
A hundred years from now, 200 years from now, a person will be able to read through those older newspapers and know what went on in those communities. That time has passed. I don’t believe stories published solely online will have that sort of permanency.
Stephanie said one of the keys is for readership to “submit, submit, submit.” This is crucial. Generally speaking, when somebody asks why they don’t have junior high sports or other activities in the paper, my answer is “because nobody submits it.”
I consider myself blessed to get to know many fine people from my “newspaper days,” co-workers, editors, publishers and story subjects (including Stephanie by the way). From former OVP publisher Bob Wingett, I learned that the newspaper wasn’t a history book and that every person has a story if you take the time to find it. I learned that all news is local news.
I even learned, like so many others, to just “Keep smiling.”
Jim Freeman is wildlife specialist with the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District. His column generally appears every other weekend. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.