I love local newspapers and I’m discouraged that this form of media is dying out. Newspapers have always been a part of my writing life. Perhaps that’s why I understand the important role they play in keeping us connected and in giving us common information based on facts and research. Newspapers held us together and still have that power in a media scape that seems bound to drive us apart.
Listen to me read this post:
When I was in high school I ran for the position of press correspondent on student council. The job entailed writing and submitting pieces to the local paper about what was happening in our school community. The day of the school council election, I had work experience in the morning at the veterinarian clinic out on the highway on the southwest end of town, a long way from our school which was located in the northeast. Although I had access to my parents’ car and knew that student council elections took place at noon hour following my work experience class, I chose for some reason to ride my bicycle that day.
After inaccurately filing files and generally making more work for my supervisor, I hopped on my bike, and headed down the highway. Halfway to my destination and with little time to spare, my bicycle chain broke. Seriously. So I leapt off my bike and pushed it, half-running, half-walking, up the hill to the school.
When I arrived sweaty and flustered, it was already lunchtime. Students were assembled in the gym waiting to hear the school council candidates’ speeches. Also there was the student running against me for the position of press correspondent. My opponent was an older student, someone I respected and whom I knew to be more popular and a bit smarter than me. He spoke first, giving me a chance to catch my breath. His words were measured, and he was both articulate and amiable. He would have made a fine press correspondent.
After he’d wrapped up his succinct address, I stood up at the front. Someone commented loudly that they couldn’t see me and someone else brought me a chair to stand on. The crowd twittered and I knew right then that they could be receptive to my broken-bike-chain story. My heart was pounding as from atop the chair, I told them about dragging my bike up the hill to be with them, here in this very gymnasium, in a sincere bid to be their next press correspondent. I made them laugh. In social situations and in trying to gain acceptance, humour has often been my default. Sometimes this strategy is successful and, in this case, it was.
In the days of my youth, the local paper for a community of 2000 residents served as a connection. We all read it and all of us formed opinions, but we all started out with the same information. We found out who was mayor, who won the hockey game, who was born, and who had died. Residents researched employment opportunities and what was on sale in the local stores. Local radio played the same role and played the same darn songs over and over. But at least we all knew those songs. We shared the same references and a common cultural context.
I enjoyed writing for the newspaper so, in later years, I became a weekly columnist for the newspaper in Grande Prairie, The Daily Herald Tribune. I contributed to that newspaper and other publications until I began a full-time teaching job. My energy and headspace was mostly consumed by that work, and I gave up the weekly column. But soon I began submitting school news, local happenings, and personal narrative pieces to a regional newspaper. Now, semi-retired and with more time to write, I still submit work to newspapers.
Boring facts, the kind found in local newspapers, are what bind us. They’re what give us common ground and root us in a shared perspective. It’s not titillating to discover what bylaws have been passed, who celebrated a 60th wedding anniversary, and which grade won the pumpkin decorating contest. Real information isn’t always real riveting. Mundane facts don’t usually make our blood boil or make us feel righteous or indignant. There is no adrenaline rush to be gained from finding out what time the farmers’ market is and where to get your annual flu shot, but local information is valuable.
Speculation and gossip are tastier than dull facts, and there are many sources for those these days, many ways to effectively disconnect us from our family and neighbours. To hold us together, we need local information, facts and numbers, to keep us informed and to keep us connected. We need information without emotion and without spin.
How can we encourage the spread of information? Support local news sources and local journalism. Still have a print newspaper? Advertise in it. Submit news items to it. Subscribe to it. This way, you’ll find out what’s happening in your schools, in your municipal government, in your hospitals, and with your sports teams and volunteer organizations. Is print news already dead where you live? Resurrect it by creating your own one-page newsletter about community happenings. Got time on your hands and some technical savvy? Consider compiling a website that covers local news on a weekly basis.
Gossip and opinions are exciting, but it’s newspapers and other reliable news sources that have the potential to bring us together. The spread of information benefits us all.
Thanks for reading. Take care and stay safe wherever you are. ~ Lori