It’s amazing what we can learn over the course of a career. So many people have taught me so much. And then there are the many things I’ve learned by observing newspaper people at work.
In more than 45 years in newspapering, here is one of the most important things I’ve learned: Small newspapers are a gift. But the real gift is the people who work at those newspapers.
The folks who work at small newspapers live in the town. Many of them grew up there. They go to church there. They shop there. Their kids go to school there. They know who’s who and who would-like-to-be-but-isn’t.
You’ll not find harder workers than those who work at small newspapers. They put in long hours and rarely (if ever) complain, they’ll visit an advertiser before sunrise and they’ll report on those high school football games that run into double-overtime ... at an opponent’s stadium 28 miles away.
They try to improve with every issue. If they hear about a better way to do things, whether it’s new software, digital photography, the web or whatever, most are willing to give the new technology a shot. Granted, some are old dogs. But even they are willing to learn new tricks.
They have the best interests of the newspaper — and the town — at heart. They want to see both succeed and flourish, and they are willing to go the extra mile to make that happen.
They are boosters. They will offer a balanced report on how things are going in town. They’ll tell the bad along with the good, but they look for the good and they focus on that because they firmly believe the town itself is a good place to live and work.
They are courageous. When that difficult story comes along, the one where they must hold up a mirror to the town and point out an ugly spot, they’re not afraid to tell the unvarnished truth. And they do that because they know that the truth is what makes the town and its people stronger.
They lead. Perhaps the town needs a nudge in the right direction. There’s a chance for growth — if the people are willing to take it. The publisher and editor will take up the cause and help to generate the momentum needed for positive change.
They appreciate core values. They’re too busy for office politics, and they really don’t care for the gossip and back-biting that goes on at larger newspapers. They have no desire to go write for The New York Times or The Washington Post because they realize they are making a positive difference right where they are.
They treat each other like family. From the publisher on down, everyone on the staff at a small newspaper is “family.” They know each other’s kids. They talk about the things that bring them together. They trust each other. And when one of them is hurting, they care for each other.
Small newspapers are part of the lifeblood of their town. Whether it’s a report on a hotly-argued county tax increase or a few sentences about a party for a bride-to-be, the people at a small newspaper take the time to get all the facts and figures correct, and all the names of the partygoers right. And ... they work hard to give advertisers the service and support they need to be successful.
A town without the bright, dedicated people who work at a small newspaper is a town that struggles.
Ed Henninger is with Henninger Consulting of Rock Hill, S.C.