In late March, The New York Times ran a column by Bill McKibben, “Vermont Town Seeks a Heart, and Soul (Also Milk and Eggs),” about a country store in Ripton, Vermont, whose owners, since 1976, recently put the store up for sale.
McKibben wrote it like a personal ad looking for the right match. “Dick and Sue Collitt are retiring, and we need someone to buy them out and take their place. Because if you don’t have a store, you can’t really have a town.” Peter and Andrea of Maria’s Bookshop might argue the same.
McKibben’s column is a sweet piece that pulls no punches about the hard work of “taking care of a town.” Ripton is 600 residents, and its country store sees many of its residents come through its doors at some point during the week: “... People talk to you. All the time, all day long. The door opens with a jingle, someone walks in, and there’s talk: weather, the news.”
The story reminded me of how newspapers in small towns hold a space like a country store, post office or public square for people to talk to one another. It got me thinking about the role of local media in our community and current significant financial and political threats to our industry.
The opinion page’s masthead bears William Allen’s White’s 1917 quote: “There are three things that no one can do to the entire satisfaction of anyone else: make love, poke the fire and run a newspaper.” Still, a community newspaper is vital to the health of the communities it covers, and there is every reason to support it.
If you don’t have a newspaper, or a library or a bookstore, hospital or a school (like Rico just announced), can you have a town? Sure, but it will be a greatly diminished one.
And at $150 per year – around 40 cents per day – the paper is currently a bargain. Even if you only count print, the cost is about 70 cents per edition. A ridiculously low price for a paper that daily provides news and information about our community, our friends and neighbors, births and deaths, sporting, scholastic and business achievements, events and emergencies, who is in need, job opportunities, where to eat and shop, government actions and much more. What else can you buy for pennies that offers so much?
That’s why – although we live in the digital age and do need to fully get into its slipstream – in the final days of my tenure as editorial page editor and member of the editorial board of The Durango Herald and Cortez Journal, I am making a pitch to support local media organizations, both public and private, that are central to the success of small rural towns, including Durango Government TV. Cutting that, and access to public meetings the Herald covers, too, is a terrible idea (Herald, May 13).
We need more, not less, community media outlets. The Denver Post and Boulder Daily Camera, two Digital First Media-owned publications, are on uncertain footing. Last month, the Post again laid off a third of its newsroom, and this week, the Salt Lake Tribune announced it would follow suit.
In a stunning demand of a private business, last month Boulder City Council decried the Camera’s Editorial Page Editor Dave Krieger’s ouster and requested that the editorial board and pages be restored (Herald, May 10).” It is a testament to the opinion pages’ value to elected officials and their ability to keep their pulse on their community. So, as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting funds public media, maybe local news organizations should be seeking local public (and private) contributions to continue that coverage.
Last year’s print reduction was a big change for everyone, especially Herald newsroom staff – real people with names and families, who are not “the enemy of the people” or produce “fake news.” Herald staff has strong journalistic ethics and integrity and work incredibly hard and long hours to produce quality community journalism that follows and reflects back to our community daily in print and online.
Digital is here to stay, and investment in its growth should remain a parallel effort to that of print, the curated published paper product or whatever succeeds it. Maybe the post-print era will have us reading the news online and via the newspaper replica “e-edition” on tablets, in coffee shops on electronic bulletin boards or on tablets on the back of menus? Maybe print and broadcast organizations will share the cost of reporters to meet people where they are online, on air and in print?
One thing we know for sure is that the industry must innovate. That is why, since September 2017, through participation in the Poynter Institute’s Local News Innovation Program, Herald staff embarked upon efforts to engage new audiences to facilitate new types of community conversations and broaden its reach.
The staff established an editorial advisory board comprised of residents with diverse backgrounds and points of view from our broader La Plata County community, and developed Durango Diaries, a community storytelling series that has proved popular with a broad local audience.
As truly fortunate as we are to have a family- versus hedge fund-owned newspaper, it is bigger than the Ballantine family. Its value to our community and region is immeasurable, and much of its future success depends upon you.
Your role has never been more important in making your voices known on important community issues, and in financially supporting the organization that provides the platform to do so by subscribing, advertising and showing your support.
Ellen Stein is vice president of Marketing and Development for Community Connections Inc. She served as the Herald’s editorial page editor and on the editorial board from 2016 to 2018. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.