The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Opinion

June 3, 2012

Tell me why you read this newspaper

— When I was born, a large photo of my dimpled self was published in The Daily Sun, the newspaper of my hometown in Warner Robins, Ga. News of my kindergarten graduation made it into the Sun, as did a photo of my big brother’s peewee football league.

A photo from 1972 shows my grandmother at a tea given in her honor when she published a book.

A yellowed Daily Sun found in my dad’s papers after he died featured a bold headline about an unprecedented middle Georgia snowfall of 18 inches, which occurred on my birthday. With bread wrappers tied to our feet to keep out the moisture, my brother and I sledded for two days straight, our lips turning blue before we would come inside.

My family arrived in Huntsville when I was 13, and then my late parents, Charles and Gayle Caldwell, moved to Athens when I was 18. My mom’s name often appeared in The News Courier, whether she was threatening to chain herself to a majestic oak to prevent its removal from the courthouse lawn or working on a committee of some sort.

When I took a job at The News Courier in June 2001, I regularly placed a birthday notice for my daughter Shannon, until she “aged-out” at 10 years old. A photo of her high school dance team appeared in The News Courier when it won a national championship.

These milestones were important in the life of my family. They did not appear in the newspaper because I am a journalist. They were published because that is the purpose of small-town journalism.

Community newspapers exist because you exist. Unlike massive metro papers such as The New York Times, small-town papers focus on what is important to members of the community.

When we heard the recent news that our fellow Alabama newspapers The Huntsville Times, Birmingham News and Mobile Press-Register are reducing their print editions to Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays to focus on the online product, we felt sucker-punched. Although I’m sure the blow was more difficult for our colleagues at those newspapers, such news is hard for all of us in this industry.

One of the more obvious reasons is that people in the community began to wonder if The News Courier is also at risk.

The answer is a firm no. While we did undergo several changes last year and dropped the Saturday edition, The News Courier will continue to be a five-day per week newspaper and serve this community 24 hours a day, seven days a week online at enewscourier.com.

The reason is simple: The News Courier is part of this community.

It is the only source for local daily news and it is also the newspaper that has, since your birth, covered the milestones in your life.

It goes beyond the old adage that you only appear in the newspaper when you’re born, when you’re married and when you die.

First touchdown? We’ll print a photo.

Huge catch at the river? Tell us about it.

Got a scholarship? Check.

Fundraisers, honor rolls, church events, job promotions. Check, check and check.

That is in addition to government oversight — ensuring you know everything you need to about local agencies. After the April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak, when power was out to most of Limestone County and all of Madison County, The News Courier was the best source for news on curfews, shelters, funding aid and other disaster recovery.

Before you receive your copy of The News Courier, you’ve already seen the news of Osama bin Laden’s death, or an earthquake in India on a 24-hour news channel.

It is not our intention to duplicate what you already know, although from time to time, the more in-depth print stories do elaborate on a sound-bite item from television news.

While we don’t always do the best job of “selling ourselves,” this is a good time to remind our readers of the positive aspects of community news, in addition to those mentioned above:

• Small-town papers boost the local economy through advertising and in news coverage. The News Courier showcases local businesses, from chains to “mom-and-pops” and announces each new development and business opening.

• We are your voice. The News Courier staff not only interviews local officials and lets readers know their reasoning behind choices that impact our daily lives, it offers a forum for you to speak, in Letters to the Editor or guest columns. We also encourage feedback on stories at enewscourier.com and on Facebook. We tell you about political candidates to help you make important voting decisions.

Those of us who work at community newspapers are often looked down upon by the Washington-Posters and Boston-Globers. They assume we must not be as talented or as well educated or we’d be working in big cities with big news and a chance for a Pulitzer Prize.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Each member of our staff of highly educated and exceptionally talented reporters works at The News Courier because he or she chooses. We like small towns and we like those days when someone asks us to photograph a 100-pound pumpkin. We like small-town people.

We like Limestone County, Ala.

With all the negative stories of a tough economy and decline of newspaper circulation, it is easy for some people to declare us obsolete.

But remember this: Community newspapers are hanging in there, faring better than larger newspapers.

We feel this is because of our importance in your lives, and yours in ours.

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