Our paper’s role in the community

Rather than talk this month about my travels and the interesting meetings I have attended, I thought it
would be appropriate to share some of my philosophy on the role of community journalism in our communities.
My point of view on this topic has been greatly influenced by my editor, Mary Lou Montgomery. Mary Lou has a passion for her job and believes nothing can or should stand in the way of our providing the best local news and information possible. After 30 years in the business, Mary Lou admits that she is having more fun than ever.
But back to the passion and our role in our communities. Mary Lou shared a story about a telephone conversation she recently had with a reader. Let me let her tell the story in her own words:
“Trudy Strieker called from Collinsville, Ill. Her husband, Joe, has been officiating baseball for 30 years. Last weekend, he officiated at two triple-headers. He is pictured in the background of an HLG (Hannibal-LaGrange College) play. It is on page 8A of Saturday’s edition. Shaun (Sports Editor) took the picture.
“He (Mr. Strieker) was so excited that his picture was in the paper, his wife said. After all these years, she doesn’t have a single picture of him umpiring, so she wants a copy of the picture to give to him. Their wedding anniversary is coming up, and she is going to surprise him.
“He’s not even in focus in this picture. The focus is on the pitcher, and Joe is in the background.
“Please don’t lose track of the impact we have on people. When the world seems to be pounding down on us, remember Joe. His picture was in our paper, and he’s thrilled.
“We make a difference in people’s lives.”

The point of this is not new to our members who publish weekly newspapers. They have known that local news and features are their bread and butter. But daily newspapers lost sight of this important fact years ago. And I believe that has contributed greatly to the decline in circulation and readership, especially at major metro newspapers.
We at the Hannibal Courier-Post have committed to our readers that we would return to our roots and publish local news and local faces in our newspaper every day. We committed to keeping our local content to at least 67 percent of total content and to publish at least 1,000 local faces in our paper every month. To maintain accountability, we track those numbers every day in a chart on the editor’s wall.
To further demonstrate our commitment, and to be sure our readers don’t forget or take it for granted, my editor and I publish a “To Our Readers” open letter on the front page of the newspaper on the first of each month. In that letter we report what our percentage of local content was last month and how many local faces were published.
And the response? It has been overwhelmingly positive. I rarely go anywhere, even now 20 months later, without someone commenting on how they like our new local approach to news. It demonstrates to me that readers are not looking for national news in our product. They really don’t care too much about state news unless it impacts them in some manner.
Like I said earlier, this is nothing new to our weekly newspaper members. But it is something all dailies should note and heed well. For if we do not satisfy our readers, then we have truly lost our reason for being. And without that, we certainly cannot withstand the economic pressures that exist in this country today. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “local, local, local.”

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