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Community Journalism

by Ron Holdraker
August 13, 2021

Thirty three years ago....seems like a lifetime. “Hey, Wife Patti, I’ve got an idea for a community newspaper.” That was the beginning of what would become the Times of Wayne County.

Back then, the idea of starting a newspaper from scratch wasn’t far fetched. With no backing, or money, the first issue appeared some 33 years ago. It was a bit crude in today’s standards. Remember, the word computer was in its infancy and any artwork was cut out and pasted from ‘art’ books printed for advertising subjects. Straight and various accent and dividing lines on a page were placed with flimsy tape-like material that often ended up less than straight. Pages were compiled using separate pieces of type, headlines, all of which was produced through film. Type often disappeared in the middle of a story as wax failed to adhere to the pages.

There was no Apple or Microsoft. Laser printers, software, real fax machines and spell check were only dreams. Copiers were giant machines that often produced crap. Color on newspaper pages?

Then there was the reporting - sketchy at best, and only landline phones replaced actual foot prodding. Government meetings were often closed to reporters and only major murders, fires and public figures were touched for news.

I recall walking in to both town and county meetings and being told they were closed to the public. I invoked the new ‘public open meetings law’ and was met with scowls. Getting documents with the FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) still took up to 30 days with government agencies purposely slow to respond. Yeah, gathering news was a bitch at best.

As time and news gathering became easier, there were always new hurdles to overcome. The First Amendment often came in handy and people opened up to new and different story angles.

I remember the first time we used the word ‘masturbation’ in a story and some parents went verplunkt.  “You can’t use words like ‘shit’ ,‘crap’, sex, rape, and child molestation did not exist, or was whispered about but never printed. I decided to fight the print establishment and our initial advertising claim was “Tell it like it is”. I decided to print arrests and grab mug shots whenever possible. No one and no subject was off limits.

The Times has just begun its 33 anniversary and is far more than just the Law& Order, or this column. We have brought thought-provoking stories and interviews to the forefront.

If someone said “shit”, or “fuck” in a meeting, or interview, I never sugar coated it. I was totally against using s__t, or the “N” word when it was spoken.

Backlash? You betcha. Threats and lawsuits never detoured what the Times was printing. Just ask my lawyer   how much I went to the line to protect the printed word. BUT! We never lost a court case.

Move on to today.

The creation of the Internet changed how both news was collected and reported. Newspapers were given the death knell for the future and reporting was curtailed in the new socially correct avenues.

We (the Times) were one of the first to use digital cameras, maintain a website and update computers and software on a regular basis. (We just started using the newest Apple I-mac machines and software)

Newspapers fell like rain and continue to do so. Online news reporting even usurped TV and radio.

Still, the Times of Wayne County endured. Where competition in Wayne County newspapers was everywhere before, we are now the only county-wide paper to exist in 2021.

Luckily, I guess, we fit a niche that readers wanted. Still, the baby boomers are dwindling and new readers are somewhat ambiguous.

The Times is still the most widely circulated newspaper and we are holding our own, regardless of new social pressures. Many ‘online’ subscriptions are gaining on the actual printed editions.

The government (and at least one mayor) now frowns on releasing mug shots and arrest reports. We are supposed to be conscious of making people happy and pointing out bad is bad and only the good in a community should be reported. We should be aware of too much honesty and should sugar-coat any divisions and controversy, make everything “community journalism”. 

I still adhere to the idea of community journalism and the ‘Tell it like it is’ philosophy. If I do not agree with a local, or national policy, or politician, I will write my opinion in my column, but will not stop accepting opposing views, or stories. The Times is far from perfect, but we try to admit our mistakes. That is what a newspaper and any media should do, but is often missing in today’s reporting.

It was recently reported (and not at all shocking) that most people get their daily news from the internet. That mostly unregulated source that mixes news and opinions into a single story is a scary place.

So, what is the future of the Times lie? I have absolutely no idea. I am an aging dinosaur in some people’s minds, but, while still at the helm, I have every intention of continue - as is.

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