With this issue, the only newspaper for many years in Baca County passes in control from the previous proprietor to the undersigned. The Herald is among the first newspapers published in the east end of what was Las Animas County beginning its weekly news foray under the “Springfield Herald” moniker in 1887. The Herald as in many others of those seventeen early towns with their news operations served as a promotional and usually the only news source for the weary and footsore home seeker in those old days. Their role was to “boom” or promote the town as much as it was to provide new coverage. At least ten papers got into action in this field during the years 1887 and 1888, shouting the virtues of this newly opened land, and probably twenty-five papers, all told, have made their appearance—and disappearance since publications such as the Boston World, Minneapolis Chico and the original Springfield Herald placed the first droplet of ink on those publications.
Things have changed since then and some will question the viability of the medium and the sanity of the new publisher. Many will say… I get my news from Google and Facebook…like everyone else. I will address this thought without likely influencing the opinion of the aforementioned reader. There is no doubt that newspapers when the opportunity was before them, failed to change and journalism and delivery of news was transformed, not by the journalists, but rather than by the tech industry. As a result, we are in the position of creating what is referred to as a news desert in large swaths of America.
An October 2018 report from the University of North Carolina shows that news deserts — communities that lack a local newspaper, or are served primarily by “ghost newspapers” — are growing across the United States. According to UNC’s research, the country has lost nearly 1,800 local newspapers since 2004, and many more have lost the ability to comprehensively cover their communities. Rural counties with poorer, older populations are most at risk — 500 rural papers have shuttered since 2004. According to the research, newspapers become “ghosts” when their newsroom staffing is so dramatically pared back that the remaining journalists cannot adequately cover their communities. In general, this has occurred among the nation’s dailies and larger weeklies. Although the exact number is hard to pin down, we estimate, based on news accounts and industry data, at least 1,000 of the 7,200 newspapers still published in this country – and perhaps as many as 1,500—have lost significantly more than half of their newsroom staffs since 2004. As a result, they have become ghosts, with drastically curtailed reach and journalistic missions. According to the report, almost 200 counties in the U.S. have no local paper now, and nearly half have only one, which is more likely than not a weekly, not a daily paper. The South registered the highest number of counties without a paper — 91, a significant jump over the Mountain (28) and Midwest (27) regions. In Georgia, 28 out of 159 counties lack a newspaper, and statewide, daily and weekly newspaper circulation has plummeted nearly in half since 2004, from 3.1 million to 1.6 million now in the eighth most populous state.
These are just some challenges with this venture. To quote the great philosopher Yogi Berra, “The future ain’t what it used to be”
The local newspaper, when done right serves many functions can still be the soul of the local community. Local publications that find a way to serve local needs are the only derivatives of the newspaper industry which have shown some resilience to failing tendency of traditional media in a digital world.
First and foremost you must understand the sensibilities and close associations of small towns. One must always remember that the person you are talking about is probably related to the person you are talking to,
“People who live here went to school with one another; they know everybody’s sins and weaknesses; they remember the ‘F’ [failing grade] on the mathematics test in the 8th grade school,” Being mindful of the readership, the communities served, and the makeup of the area the local publication has to do some things that other papers don’t. It has to remain steadfastly local. It’s important if someone has won an award to take note, it’s important to do a lot of the ‘chicken dinner’ [community activities] stuff, essentially the story of the life of a place that no one outside the boundaries of the service area care about. That’s a primary purpose of a publication such as the Plainsman, to serve up the story of the life of the community.
William Allen White, Editor of the Emporia Gazette, Emporia, Kansas wrote in 1916
“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.”
This statement still ring true. With a keen awareness of an ever shrinking advertising base, a generation who are more willing than their predecessors to shop in other towns, (It doesn’t bug them to drive an hour to go to Walmart), the overzealous willingness to shop Amazon, a broad perception that print is dead and a potential lack of community buy of the local paper as a civic asset we begin this adventure.
To those current subscribers of the Herald into whose hands this issue of the Herald may happen to fall, I want to send this greeting, and the hope that prosperity meets you on your journey and stays with you. To those who have strayed from the pages of this 132-year-old publication I want to invite you to come back and join us again and embrace the opportunity to gain what Google and Facebook don’t and won’t embrace, the local communities.
To the subscribers and patrons of the Herald, past and present, I particularly want to send this greeting, hoping the Herald may continue to meet your approbation and to receive your continued favor and support, and that as a medium and newspaper it may be of still greater service to you in the future than it has in the past.
I believe the first mission of a newspaper is to give the news; but a mission like unto it is giving expression to and drawing out public sentiment on matters of community affairs in common, in all things pertaining to the social and pecuniary interests of the county and surrounding area as a whole, or any part thereof, and particularly to its development and the proper exploitation of its interests and resources.
National news might…and I emphasize might provide two minutes of a story about what they call “flyover country”, but that will be it. The local paper can revisit a story multiple times to make sure that we, the listeners, fully understand it and its impact on us, if there is one.
Newspapers also provide credibility. A newspaper’s future depends on earning and keeping the respect of local readers, advertisers and community leaders. Newspapers cannot afford to get the facts wrong or to take sides when reporting a story. A newspaper’s reputation depends upon its credibility. You will often hear someone saying with a scoff, ‘It must be true, I saw it on the internet!’ But when the same person says “I read it in the paper,” they are sharing the information as a fact.
The purpose of local is to see, know, care about and understand your community.
The purpose of the local paper or station is to see, know, care about and understand your community in ways your neighbors don’t and then share what you find. It’s to be perpetual tourist in your town with a side helping of too much empathy.
A second goal of this publication is and should be to not let the events and newsworthy events of today fade into the abyss of history. A concept known as the digital dark age is a real and looming threat. We no longer live in a world in which we can go back and dig in the shoebox in the basement for old photos, news clippings and artifacts.
In March 2019 news emerged that, amid a data migration project, Myspace had deleted all the music uploaded to its site between 2003 and 2015—about 53 million files. That is poor archiving, to be sure, particularly given the role social media played for music in the pre-streaming era. Realize this… if you had music photos or other memories from MySpace…THEY ARE GONE. A part of your life memories are gone. In that light you have to assume Facebook will disappear as well. We don’t know the timing, but it will go away. At the least you need to think about this for other mediums you are using to capture and store your precious memories. The local newspaper is not the sole answer to this, but it can be a partial answer.
But what is most telling about this massive loss of digital data is that it happened months ago, and few seemed to take notice of or complain about the broken links. Which would seem to make the Myspace story less about a loss of information, than about a loss of interest.
If you wish to trust your most cherished memories to Facebook Instagram and other digital media, I wish you the best. Local public media, i.e. newspapers, are like public libraries and local museums in that they preserve culture, educate and engage in order to build understanding on important issues that are expensive or difficult to cover for any media outside of the area. Recording key events occurring in the county for the sake of history is still a legitimate role of the local news publication
Public media ties a community together and offers an outlet to share the stories of your neighbors — not only can you gather and send information that relates directly to the community, but you can also get to know each other better.
I want to ask any aspiring correspondents of the Herald to return to it with their local news items. The willingness to share with us your lives is critical to the survival of this medium of news. I shall ask for brevity and straight, clean items, and would like if possible to have every social center of the county represented.
I want to call the attention of advertisers to the fact that the Herald is promoting your friend and your neighbor and the particular qualities those here and in the surrounding area who are equipped for business. I hope it can be particularly advantageous to those who use its columns, as it has been in the past, by reason of its circulation, both at home and abroad. In a word; I want you to feel that the Herald is your phone line to the ear of the public.
Mindful of the fact that there are limitations even to a salutatory, I will close with Lincoln’s famous, “Goodwill to all and malice towards none,” and the hope that the Herald will be between us a mediator and a bond of friendship.
All My Best, The Editor