Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Building Newspapers and Communities

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Building Newspapers and Communities

Article excerpt

Community newspaper are taking a long look at their first name these days.

Increasingly, publishers of community papers believe they must build their own communities - by working to renew civic life and support local mom and pop businesses - if their papers are to survive. The most recent sign of this renewed interest in community could be seen on the agenda of the 111th annual convention and trade show of America's largest community newspaper trade group, the National Newspaper Association. NNA devoted a huge hunk of its convention to presentations about building a community - its economic base, its civic and social life and its spirit.

At the Nashville convention, NNA in a partnership with the Huck Boyd National Center for Community Media at Kansas state University's A.Q. Miller School of Journalism, brought in academics, economic development experts and other professionals in a "Community Building Symposium." Topics ranged from "How to minimize conflicts of interest while increasing community involvement" to "Building community through religion reporting." Often the discussions centered around what newspapers can do to build up business in their struggling villages, towns and small cities.

"Jobs are what you want" one economic adviser, John Lovorn, emphatically told the publishers. "What you want is to create wealth, and that will your circulation and your advertising revenue," said Lovorn, president of Tupelo, Miss.-based Pace Group, which advises small towns on attracting business.

Lovorn cited as his inspiration Tupelo publisher George McLean, who in 1934 began a decades-long only bringing jobs to the city, but also improving education and - as his last act as publisher - setting up a stock plan to ensure his paper stay locally owned.

"George McLean said in 1934, `Put dollars in the pockets of our citizens through jobs and education and then we will have a successful newspaper,'" Lovorn said.

That's essentially the philosophy, in 1996, of Don Corrigan, co-founded the Webster/Kirkwood Times in Missouri and is a professor of journalism at Webster University.

"We don't need to be self-conscious about supporting the so-called mom and pop shops," Corrigan said of community papers. "We have a lot in common - we're both up against the biggies.

"A strong business community," Corrigan continued at the symposium, "creates a strong civic life. And I don't think you have to be an advocate of public journalism to see that a strong civic life is vital."

Indeed, the community paper publishers - who as a group are famously resistant to journalism fads - do not seem to equate community building with public journalism.

They applauded warmly when Michael Gartner - now himself editor of a community, paper, the Daily, Tribune in Ames, Iowa - delivered his familiar stump speech against public journalism.

"I think you - we - are being lulled and conned by thing called public journalism Gartner said. "I'm beginning to see it everywhere, and I think that's just awful. News pages are supposed to explain the community not convene it. News reporters are supposed to explain the issues, not solve them. Newspapers are supposed to expose the wrongs, not campaign against them."

Community paper editors are not much interested in debating public journalism, however. in fact, about a third of the community paper editors responding to a recent survey said they had never heard the phrase "public journalism."

Why aren't community newspaper editors paying attention to it? asked Garrett W. …

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