Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Steve Hansen
Columnist 

Rural papers keep on keeping on

 

January 17, 2018



As a journalist working for a rural local newspaper, I am heartened by what I’ve been reading about rural newspapers lately.

Over the past 20 years or so, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have disgorged editorial staff and shrunk their daily products from the size of a mid-size city phone book to something you could easily fold into a paper hat.

The one bright spot in the newspaper world seems to be little old rural dailies and weeklies like the one you’re reading.

And, by the way, thank you.

The bright spot is that little has changed for the smaller operations while larger newspapers have been crashing down like an avalanche. Rural folks still read smaller dailies and weeklies religiously, recent studies agree.

Quite often, say recent reports from the likes of Stanford University and Nieman Labs, famous for Nieman Fellowships, local newspapers are the only reliable source for local news.

It seems also that the communities served by smaller newspapers tend to skew older than more urbanized areas, too. Older folks like me still prefer to read print on paper.

“Bright” is a relative term, though, when describing the outlook for rural newspapers. Rural newspapers are now and have always been operations with skeleton staffs (who are often paid like skeletons who don’t need food or shelter), who work very hard and take on wide-ranging responsibilities just for the love of doing it.

And this job at a rural newspaper to me is fun and rewarding, almost always.

“Rural newsrooms make for lean living and busy workweeks,” reads a study by Stanford University’s Bill Lane. “Reporters have to wear many hats to put out a local paper.”

I can attest to that. Even at the medium-size daily newspapers I worked for in my 20s, I was not allowed to pick up a camera. At the Quay County Sun, I have to. That’s a good thing because I like working with a camera whether or not readers like looking at my work.

Further, the Stanford study’s summary reads, “many of these papers are an advertiser or two away from red ink.”

The smaller papers retain their sometimes precarious health because small towns have a sense that the local newspaper belongs to them.

They have developed “a relationship with the local readers that some people say that mainstream journalism has lost,” the study says.

I am happy with this state of affairs even as the decline of larger newspapers baffles me.

Rural America seems to have retained an appreciation for information that is professionally screened for news value, properly researched, with sources named or at least conscientiously vetted by qualified editors, with as much bias edited out as is humanly possible.

I don’t know why those values that guide the newspaper business are lost on allegedly more sophisticated, better educated urban and suburban dwellers, who have abandoned newspaper reading in droves.

Since I am no longer among their numbers, I can shrug and say, “their loss,” and get back to reporting and writing for real readers.

Steve Hansen writes about our life and times from his perspective of a retired Tucumcari journalist. Contact him at:

[email protected]

 
 

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