View from outside, and inside, key to community vitality
Wednesday, January 04, 2012 3:08 AM
I've lived in the area full-time for about three decades now. Although I don't have the deep family roots many residents do in the area, I've become comfortable enough that I tend to look at the area through "local" eyes, noticing daily changes, but not always seeing the larger trends.
That's why I always take an interest in how people new to the area view us. They don't know the history, what used to be here yesterday, or how things flow through the working channels.
Sometimes, their observations can be eye opening. We're still operating under the assumptions of yesterday while we barely noticed how much things have changed.
Every individual location is different, but I thought it would be interesting to give you some of the views of a professor who operated a small, rural newspaper in Washington state for the summer. His views are positive and don't deal with problems resulting from the changes before us, but rather are more universal observations of rural life in the United States.
The professor, who grew up in the Chicago area, worked as a reporter, city editor, managing editor and editor in several states before going into education. However, since turning to education, he felt that he needed to refresh that practical experience so he could give his students a solid understanding of the real world of journalism. Publishers of small, rural newspapers, particularly when the publications aren't part of a group, often don't get vacations or any break at all, so he easily found a willing partner to take over for a while so she could take a break.
Mac McKerral traveled from Western Kentucky University to St. John, Wash., to run the Current Newspaper for a short time over the summer. Following are some of his thoughts about that experience.
Small towns have problems just like the big towns, but the problems seem smaller and the willingness to deal with them seems larger.
Life moves slower in a small town than in a large town, but in the small town more gets done.
I used to think that I could have been a pretty good farmer. I don't anymore.
The value of family and time spent together by parents and kids cannot be overrated. Maintaining family foundations - meals together, church together, work together and play together - keeps the fiber of the family and community strong.
When it comes to ongoing strength of community, the real estate adage applies. With real estate, "location, location, location," the adage states. With community, it's "education, education, education." And that applies to traditional and non-traditional forms of learning. And the ongoing learning is as important for adults as it is for children. The library programs, quality schools, cultural opportunities and the development of the museum to chronicle life in the area all contribute to learning, as does the community newspaper.
Get kids exposed to the world in the most expansive way. They will appreciate the world they know and fear the world they do not know less.
Behave like adults when you should. But act like a kid when you can. The energy of youth is contagious. Being around it and part of it will keep you "forever young."
So, do you think his general observations ring true? Obviously, I did, or I wouldn't have reported them in this column.
I was particularly encouraged by his thoughts that the community newspaper is part of the educational process that is so vital to rural residents. Since I am borrowing this week, I will leave you with the thoughts from another journalist, this one a community newspaper editor who recently published a book, "Emus loose in Egnar: Big stories from small towns." The first part of the title comes from a police blotter report about emus escaping from a ranch in Colorado. It was a big story for the small town that the emus infiltrated after getting out.
Author Judy Muller insists small-town newspapers are vital to their communities and appreciated by their readers "mostly because absolutely no one else does what they do: Document the births, deaths, crimes, sports, local shenanigans and many other events that only matter to...souls in their circulation area. Taken together, however, these 'little stories' create a mosaic of American life that tells us a great deal about who we are - what moves us, angers us, amuses us."
Yes, a true insider's view, but one that is as important to our communities as the observation from outside.