At the dawn of yet another year, the leaders of the universe that is Sherman Publications sat atop their ivory towers and looked down at me. From far above I heard their voices bellowing like rolling thunder. In unison, three voices spoke as one . . .
“Donald,” they summoned, I looked up and a snow flake gently landed on my cheek. “Donald. It is time. We have you here to hear of our desire. You are the Chosen One. He who shall speak to our people.”
“But,” I interjected humbly, “Will they listen?”
Their voices boomed out their annoyance at my doubting, “No buts! Tell them, tell them it all!”
And then, as if under some unearthly command, cumulonimbus clouds converged to obscure my vision of the Three Towers. It rained and then it drizzled and then it froze. Ah, January in Michigan. They spoke no more. I was alone in an icy parking lot. Were they still up there? Watching me? What were they doing up there in those ivory towers?
Silence of the winter rain.
“But, you forgot to tell me what it is you wanted me to say, and to whom,” I said meekly, obviously to myself.
What had they said? “Our people . . .” What did that mean? Our people? Their children? No. Their employees? No. Then, out of nowhere a thought hit me like a giant, wet and sloppy snow ball to the noggin’ — Their people, their readers.
So what message did they desire me to send to you, the reader?
My best guess is about a golden rule of community journalism — one we may have gotten away from recently. That rule?
“Thou shalt accept for publication, those announcements from individuals, groups, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandmas and grandpas — any interested party. Thou shalt accept said announcements with smiling faces and plenty of thank yous — and then follow through and publish said announcements promptly.”
That means we cannot make readers jump through hoops to get information published. Mail it, e-mail it, drop it off, call it in — if you make the effort to furnish us with information it is our job to get it in our community newspaper. (Of course, we reserve the right to correct spelling, etc.)
As editors and reporters for a community newspaper, we need to get out there and pound the pavement, press the flesh and meet new people. We have to hear different points of view. We cannot rely (solely) on one source of information. We cannot rely (solely) on public relations personnel for info from our local forms of government.
Many residents criticize elected officials and administrators of being smug and beyond reproach. Those same folks may think the same of us.
When we get a letter to the editor criticizing us, we have to realize there are other points of view. We need to come to grips with the fact that criticisms are not necessarily a bad thing. When readers see spelling errors and let us know, they actually care enough about us to tell us to shape up.
The message seems pretty simple, we need to be open to our readers. We need to get back to the idea that everyone in our community has a story, and that it is our job to tell it. Before we can tell it, though, we need to get out and talk to the community.
Did you know one of our goals is to get every kid who goes to public school here in our paper at least once before they graduate? Yup it’s true.
What was the message those leaders of this community newspaper want me to share? I guess it is to share our commitment to the readers and our community. If you want to see something in the paper, think we should do something better, by all means let us know.
I think they mean, you can help us. Keep us on our toes. Be our ears and eyes. And, when you do, send us your phone number so we can call to verify. Send in all your stuff for publication, and then thank the local businesses who advertise, they make it all possible!
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A recent article by Jane Hungarter (I got it this week) stated, “. . .(several studies) demonstrate that newspapers work. Newspapers actively engage audiences who take action as a result of seeing newspaper advertising.”
Here are some of the findings:
86% of readers say newspapers are a great place to get useful information
Local newspapers continue to be the primary source of information about communities in small towns and cities
78% of readers feel like they are a part of a community of readers
Consumers look forward to reading community newspapers, and rely on them for local news and information
Community newspapers are informative, entertaining, and provide quality news coverage and fair news reporting
74% of readers usually notice the ads appearing in newspapers
Newspapers are the medium in which advertising makes consumers more likely to purchase, and the most effective place to learn about sales and store information.
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And, newspapers are worst at promoting themselves. We go about getting the job done, writing news, selling ads to promote other businesses, but we suck at telling our own story.
I aim to change that this year! Send me your comments, DontRushDon@gmail.com