Making newspapers the community voice

I edited my first "newspaper" almost a quarter century ago. My best friend Bobby Gottschalk and I typed a one-page paper on a toy typewriter, mixing neighborhood gossip and national news concocted by our grade-school minds. Let's just say it didn't win a Pulitzer.

That was my first foray into what has become my passion for community journalism. I have always loved reading and writing, but for a long time I wasn't interested in newspapers. They often didn't seem to have anything to do with day-to-day life. The things I was interested in were delegated to small blurbs buried in the middle of a metropolitan daily, at best.

But I wanted to write and journalism has been a training ground for numerous literary greats. I drove my college professors nuts with my insistence that global issues weren't as interesting as what's happening down the block. Having a world-wide awareness is important, but the news I thought mattered most to most people is what happens closest.

It wasn't until I had my first full-time reporter's job at a twice-weekly paper in rural northeast Wisconsin that I discovered where the kind of reporting I wanted to do could be found: in community newspapers.

A newspaper is the voice of a community. It should reflect the lives of all the people it serves, telling the stories that really matter. That's not just hard news, that's the fun stories of everyday life, too.

People need to know what's happening in local politics - that's where the decisions are made that have the greatest effect on people's lives: sewer rates, land use planning, police and fire and the like.

For a democracy to work, citizens need to have the information to make informed decisions. Most people are too busy to go to all the meetings and hearings and rely on newspapers to serve as a surrogate.

But that's just part of community journalism. Really, it's about people; people's lives and people's stories. Even when covering the innerworkings of local government, reporting is about people and how people will be affected by the decisions of policy-makers.

That doesn't mean we just tell the good news. We tell the bad news, too. Both are vital parts of a community's story. Telling those stories is what the Snoqualmie Valley Record and the nation's weekly newspapers do. That's why weeklies are bucking the global trend of print media decline.

To continue the Valley Record's tradition of being the voice of Valley residents, I need to hear from people in the community. Call or e-mail story ideas; send write-ups and photos of things happening in the area; write letters to the editor. I won't promise we'll write about everything we hear, but I can promise we won't cover something if we don't know about it.

This is your newspaper and I look forward to helping tell the stories of the Snoqualmie Valley. The real job of community journalism is more enjoyable to me now than playing reporter ever was in the third grade.

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