Have you ever thought about the importance of community journalism, specifically, local newspapers? I’m sure at one time or another you’ve seen a family Bible filled with yellowed newspaper clippings of long-ago births, wedding announcements and obituaries of loved ones. Or maybe someone’s scrapbook full of newspaper clippings reflecting various accomplishments?
I first began reading newspapers as a child, beginning with the “Weekly Reader” in elementary school. It was an educational classroom magazine designed for children and I was always thrilled when I saw Mrs. Fitch or Mrs. Squyres or Mrs. Walker getting ready to distribute them to the class. I regularly consumed both of our local newspapers as a child. And yes, believe it or not, we did have two local newspapers at one time – the Polk County Enterprise and the East Texas Eye. Over time, the Eye ceased publication but I continued to read the Enterprise, even subscribing to it while I was off at college.
To this day, I still have a very old, tattered newspaper clipping from when I was in the local newspaper for being named “Sophomore of the Year” by the local Kiwanis Club. And I have numerous clippings in scrapbooks from the musicals we put on every spring when I was active in the high school choir.
A story I remember fondly is one my husband shared with me back when we were dating. I don’t really remember the context of the conversation, but I remember him telling me about a headline that accompanied a sports story that had run in the local newspaper years ago that said “Love, Rogers, Wooten score for Livingston.” His eyes lit up and his smile broadened as he told me about scoring a touchdown during a freshman football game. It was exciting for him that he’d scored a touchdown and it was a really big deal to him that not only had he been written about, but that he’d been named in the headline.
Years later, remembering that story, I went to The Portal to Texas History, “a gateway to rare, historical, and primary source materials from or about Texas,” located at texashistory.unt.edu. After doing what I call “backwards math” to determine what year he would have been a high school freshman, I started scrolling through the newspapers from the fall of 1981. And sure enough, there at the top of page 2B in the Sept. 13, 1981 issue of the Polk County Enterprise was an article written by former Sports Editor Van Thomas with a headline that read, “Love, Rogers, Wooten score for Livingston.” The article went on to report that “Fullback Kevin Wooten had two carries for 12 yards and one touchdown” in a game that the Livingston freshmen team played, and won, against the Dayton Broncos in Bronco Stadium. I printed it, framed it, wrapped it and gave it to him one year for Christmas.
This example, in and of itself, underscores the value of community journalism. The fact that a grown man could correctly recite verbatim a headline that had run in a newspaper several decades prior, is a testament to the power of community journalism.
Community journalism is locally-oriented, professional news coverage that typically focuses on small towns and communities, rather than metropolitan, state, national or world news. If it does cover wider topics, it concentrates on the effect they have on local readers. Community newspapers tend to cover subjects larger news media do not, such as students on the honor roll at the local high school, school sports, crimes such as vandalism, zoning issues and other details of community life.
Providing news to the people is an ever-evolving endeavor, today more so than at any other time in our history with the numerous platforms available. My goal - in conjunction with our team - is to produce a product that not only has relevance for our community, but that serves our readers and advertisers in a first-class manner. However, to achieve this goal, we need your help.
The future of legal notices – those items toward the back of the paper that local, state and federal governments are required to publish to inform constituents of what they are doing – is under attack by lawmakers throughout the nation. Some government officials throughout the country are wanting to move notices from newspapers to government-run websites, where they most likely will not be easily found or seen. It’s akin to putting the fox in charge of the hen house.
From a business point of view, the notices, which cover everything from hearings on the county’s subdivision regulations to local restaurants seeking mixed beverage permits, are a vital stream of revenue for U.S. newspapers at a time when other traditional advertising revenue continues to decline. In some states, including Florida and Colorado, that revenue stream is under threat as politicians move to eliminate the requirement that legal notices be printed in newspapers of record.
Although the Texas Legislature convened Tuesday for its 88th session, state lawmakers were able to begin filing bills on Nov. 14. Several bills have already been filed that would threaten the future of legal notices in local newspapers.
Donnis Baggett, executive vice president of the Texas Press Association, explains it well.
“Our Founding Fathers understood that nothing was more important to successful self-government than a robust free press. Transparency and accountability weren’t political buzzwords back then, but those who crafted the framework of our republic made it clear that an unfettered press was the best watchdog for holding government accountable to its citizens.
“Your Texas Press Association works year-round to protect newspapers’ ability to perform that sacred duty. Much of our time is spent defending public notices in newspapers, which are under constant attack from government officials who’d prefer to provide their own oversight. We believe that public notices represent much more than a revenue source for newspapers; they’re important pillars of government transparency and a key element of newspapers’ identity. That said, we’ll also be engaged on other issues affecting government transparency and accountability.”