PUBLISHER'S NOTEBOOK:'Ploggers' play important role
Tuesday, June 11, 2013 7:37 AM
Most of you are familiar with the term bloggers, which are people who write blogs, short for web logs that often act as personal diaries or other types of personal writing available on the web for all to see. Did you know that they were preceded by "ploggers," which are people who write print logs that detailed social news of people in the community for everyone in the community to see through their hometown newspaper?
These ploggers are better known as community newspaper correspondents, which still exist, but in diminished numbers. They detail the social life of ordinary people in the community, often writing about their visitors, travels, births, deaths, marriages, social events and other routine events in their lives.
In past years, community newspapers often had farm wives write these columns. Part of the reason for the decline in correspondents is that many women, including farm wives, work outside the home. Also, the fact that most homes are empty during the days with two working parents means decreased availability to gather this social news. At least, that has been my experience. We found it so difficult to replace our correspondents once they retired.
However, the decline may also be attributed to community newspapers wanting to be more like their urban counterparts. Beth H. Garfrerick, an assistant professor in the Department of Communications at the University of North Alabama, wrote in Grassroots Editor, a publication of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, that critics of community or rural journalism were especially harsh when it came to discussing the "personals" that reported the social gatherings and comings and goings of area residents.
On closer analysis, though, daily newspapers also had social columns, but they were society columns that only featured the financially well-connected, not the everyday people from all income classes that were a mainstay in the columns in community newspapers.
The correspondence in small papers, often mirrored the community and kept the people well connected to each other. As Garfrerick pointed out, "Their writings revealed that even during tough economic and political times, people still enjoyed their lives, attended church, visited friends and relatives, hosted social events, got married and had babies, most of whom the newspaper described as 'beautiful.'"
Her research shows that there are plenty of people who think the trend away from this personal writing - and loss of authentic voices - to a more formulaic journalism has been a detriment. Katrina Beckham French, a blogger, complained that "in their attempt to imitate the editorial standards of larger national papers, small town weekly papers...have given away their most compelling attribute: a truly local, intimate, personal and yet still professional perspective on community news."
Although our newspapers have few, and some no, rural correspondents, it isn't due to lack of trying. Societal changes have made it just too difficult for us to continue the tradition of correspondents in the same way as in the past.
However, we still strive to maintain that truly local, intimate, personal perspective with a presentation that is professional. We feel everyone has a story to tell and we are willing to feature those stories in our publications to help keep our residents connected.
After all, we have quite a responsibility. No other medium is devoted exclusively to the local communities. Sure, there are regional dailies and even regional weeklies, of which our newspaper group publishes one, but they can't devote the time or space to the narrow focus we have with this community newspaper.
It is apparent that people are reaching out for local connections, not only in blogs, but also in social media. We try to fulfill that role for this community by writing about what is important in the everyday lives of local residents in authentic voices. Our stories may not be groundbreaking ones, but they connect to our local readers.
As country singer Miranda Lambert sang in "Famous in a Small Town," a 2007 hit of hers, "I dreamed of going to Nashville. Put my money down and placed my bet. I just got the first buck of the season. I made the front page of the Turner Town Gazette."