Early in my career at the Brownwood Bulletin, our publisher took a trip to another state with others from what was then Woodson Newspapers.
The Bulletin was a pioneer in a different technology then being introduced into the industry — offset printing — and the company’s leaders were periodically invited to visit other locations to show managers at those newspapers how it’s done.
Our publisher was the late Ronald Gray, who was pretty much the only publisher I had during the first two decades of my work at the Bulletin. I’ve read that owner Craig Woodson carried the title of publisher at some point in the 1960s, but it’s not clear to me when the title changed. However, I do know that it was Mr. Gray who was there running the shop day-to-day. A few called him Ronald. Most called him Mr. Gray.
When he returned from what I believe was a small city in California — but I’m not sure — Mr. Gray told me something that has stuck with me for decades.
“If you’re ever in a small town and you want to start a conversation, pick up a copy of the local newspaper and ask, ‘What’s the deal with this?’”
He then told the story about breakfast the day after their group had arrived in town. Seated at a table in the motel’s restaurant, he asked if they had a copy of the local newspaper.
“Oh, you don’t want that rag,” the proprietor said. “There’s nothing in it.”
Mr. Gray was usually soft-spoken, even when riled. These quotes are paraphrased — it’s been many years, after all — but you get the idea.
“We’re from Texas,” Mr. Gray replied, “and the owner of that newspaper invited us here to work with him. He said this is the best motel in town. He said this is the best place to get breakfast. And he’s the one who will be picking up our check. I don’t think you should be talking about his business that way.”
I think about Mr. Gray’s story every time I hear people trash-talking their local newspaper, wherever it is. I thought I would get over that after I retired, but I haven’t. That doesn’t mean I don’t cringe once in a while when certain things happen in print — just as I cringed when certain things happened on my watch — because I know how hard your newspaper staff wants to get things right.
National Newspaper Week is being observed right now, Oct. 2-8, and yes, I know. Everything from karaoke (fourth week in April) to nude recreation (second week in July) has a special week. But this one is important to me, and it should be to you too.
Regardless of where you live, there’s not a publication in the world that cares more about your community than its local newspaper. No publication devotes more energy and resources in celebrating your community, and in making it the best place it can be. No other publication provides more information about your community, or is better equipped to package the information its residents need and want to know. Now with the internet, those abilities to inform have grown exponentially.
But it is a two-way street. Readers enhance their community’s newspaper by supporting the news staff with ideas for stories reporters might not have discovered yet, and by providing constructive feedback on how well they are doing. Local businesses grow by marketing their products and services through advertising, which in turn helps the newspaper become an even stronger advocate not only for them, but also for the entire area.
Newspapers work best when they enjoy the community’s involvement, because newspapers are a foundation on which the community can build.
Appropriately, the theme for this year’s Newspaper Week observance is “Way To Know.” The aim is to applaud and underscore newspaper media’s role as the leading provider of news in print, online or through mobile devices.
This theme is especially meaningful for cities the size of Brownwood. The local newspaper is the first draft of a city’s history. It’s a compass that points toward the community’s future. It’s where residents go when they want to stand on a soapbox. And it’s a shopping destination for buyers and sellers — whether they are a big-box megastore, a small mom-and-pop business, or a family holding a garage sale.
I wrote my first story for the Brownwood Bulletin 47 years ago last month, so I feel I write this with some authority. I’ll bet my breakfast on it.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is an updated reprint of a column first published in 2014.