Home Town News: William Allen White and the Emporia Gazette

By Sally Foreman Griffith | Go to book overview

7
Community Journalism

In 1916 William Allen White celebrated the small-town newspaper in Harper's Monthly Magazine as "the incarnation of the town spirit": "Our papers, our little country papers, seem drab and miserably provincial to strangers; yet we who read them read in their lines the sweet, intimate story of life. And all these touches of nature make us wondrous kind. . . ." 1

This article, "The Country Newspaper," expressed a vision of the small- town newspaper that is still central to the way in which community journalists see their responsibilities today. To reach this point, White's ideas about community journalism had evolved in the first decades of the twentieth century even as its economic foundation shifted from party patronage to advertising. Like many progressives, White insisted that the growth of true community depended upon communication. But where others applied this idea to the task of fostering a sense of community in large cities or the nation as a whole, White applied them to his role as editor of the Emporia Gazette. He envisioned the small-town newspaper as an agent of community, in which seemingly unimportant local news unified the town's residents. "It is the country newspaper," he explained in Harper's, "bringing together daily the threads of the town's life . . . that reveals us to ourselves. . . ." He concluded:

Therefore, men and brethren, when you are riding through this vale of tears upon the California Limited, and by chance pick up the little country newspaper . . . when you see its array of countryside items; its interminable local stories; its tiresome editorials . . . don't throw down the contemptible little rag with the verdict that there is nothing in it. But know this, and know it well: if you could take the clay from your eyes and read the little paper as it is written, you would find all of God's beautiful sorrowing, struggling, aspiring world in it, and what you saw would make you touch the little paper with reverent hands. 2

Seen through White's perspective, the small-town newspaper embodies some attractive qualities--appreciation for the simple pleasures of life, celebration of the common man and woman, and understanding of the deep human needs for belonging and recognition. More than any other journalistic genre, the small-town newspaper's locals illustrate these qualities by redefining "news" in terms of equality, familiarity, and continuity. White's

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Home Town News: William Allen White and the Emporia Gazette
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction 3
  • Part I - The New Man 11
  • 1 - The Education of a Somebody"" 13
  • 2 - The New Editor 32
  • Part II - The Old Order Changeth 65
  • 3 - A Practical Printer 67
  • 4 - The Making of a Progressive 92
  • 5 - Booster Progressivism 113
  • 6 - Spokesman for Community 139
  • 7 - Community Journalism 159
  • Part III - Nationalizing the Community 185
  • 8 - Booster Nationalism 187
  • 9 - Mass Media Come to the Small Town 211
  • Epilogue 240
  • Notes 243
  • Index 283
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