What a terrific little newspaper The Pocahontas Times is.
As a former editor and journalist for small, community newspapers, whenever I travel through or revisit a town I always grab a copy of the local paper. It’s usually 50 or 75 cents well spent.
I’m a firm believer that the strength and vibrancy of the local newspaper is a real reflection of the strength and vibrancy of the community itself, as much as it is a reflection of the creativity and energy of the editor and their newsroom. It’s a great way to experience and learn more about what’s happening in that city or town, to pick up the vibe of the place.
Because I know how important good local papers are, I am an admittedly harsh critic of not-so-good ones. It frustrates me when I see editors taking shortcuts to fill space, such as using syndicated content that has no local relevance, substituting opinion pieces for actual news, and focusing on crime and court reports at the expense of local schools, community development and other stories that require a little more work to produce.
You can usually spot the newspapers that are really just masquerading as “local.” Not having an office in the physical heart of the community is one dead giveaway. Another is a lack of locally-contributed content. (These faux-local papers love a columnist, particularly one who doesn’t actually live anywhere near where the paper is read. It’s easy to have a big opinion when you don’t have to walk down the main street and back it up, face to face.)
My first job in community journalism was at a once-a-week paper in a small country town in rural New South Wales. It was one of those places where the local paper was a critical part of the town’s life.
With just 1.5 full time reporters, each week we put out between 24 – 32 pages of 100 percent local content. We were able to do that because about 60 percent of that was contributed by locals; stuff like what fishing boats had come in and out of the harbor that week, write-ups of local sport, and a column from the local police Sergeant. None of it was political or ideological soapboxing, just the real day-to-day news and information that small communities rely upon, and upon which they converse and connect.
At $1.50 a piece, pretty close to 100 percent of local households bought a copy each and every week. On those rare Thursday mornings when the paper was delayed coming from the printer, an impatient, worried line would form outside the newsagent. Because this was their paper. It told their stories.
When I stopped at a gas station outside Green Bank last week and picked up a copy of The Pocahontas Times, it took me back to those days of good “by local, for local” newspapers. It was beautiful and refreshing to read the entire paper and not see a single piece of irrelevant syndicated content from another state, or a deluge of opinion pieces claiming to provide “information.”
Unless I am mistaken, 100 percent of the content in the issue I read was about something that had happened, or was happening, in Pocahontas County.
This looks to me to be a local paper that knows its role, which is not providing random, skirting coverage of the Syrian conflict or the latest horror crime story from California. The Pocahontas Times knows it is not CNN or Fox News. It is not twitter, or NPR, or the Charleston Gazette. It is the Pocahontas Times, and its business – its competitive advantage – is Pocahontas County.
Now, I’m sure the Pocahontas Times has its critics. No local paper is perfect.
But the more we can encourage editors and publishers across West Virginia to understand the strong appetite that people will continue to have for well-produced, thoughtful and responsible local news and information, the stronger our communities will be.
What do you think? Could your local paper be a bit more, well, local?