Joe’s Journal

In praise of little newspapers

Ramblings from an old scribbler
Wed, 06/16/2021 - 7:00am

They gave out this year's Pulitzer prizes for journalism the other day.

They honored the New York Times (surprise) with the Public Service Award for their stories of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other winners exposed the practices of a powerful Florida sheriff, a study on police dogs that bite innocent citizens, the George Floyd murder and, well, you can look them up. It is an extensive list.

FYI — I did not win a Pulitzer this year. I didn't expect to win one. My favorite newspapers, The Boothbay Register, The Wiscasset Newspaper, and the website the Pen Bay Pilot, didn't win either. Neither did our friends at the Lincoln County News.

But they should have.

For the last year, as we all stayed in self-imposed home detention, little papers, like ours, published every week. Reporters worked from home. Editors did, too. Our phones and computers became the lifeline to our communities. We chronicled our towns and counties. That is what community journalism is all about. We let our neighbors know what is going on in their backyard and down the street.

I have not checked the magic computer numbers to get the final count, but I will bet the most read stories of the year had to do with the weekly COVID-19 statistics, especially when they involved Lincoln County. These were the stories that directly affect our readers, our families, and our lives. That is what we do every day.

Even though we are classified as a weekly newspaper, the computer has turned us into a mini-daily paper as we post new stuff on the web each day. Many of you read our offering called “The Morning Catch.”

Others click on our website to see what's up in town government and check out the doings of our service clubs, churches, veteran's organizations, and local businesses.

Lots of folks like to read the local advertisements, too.

Our letters to the editor section gives you a chance to praise your neighbors for their good deeds and accomplishments. That section also provides space for others to vent their frustrations on local conditions and politics at all levels. We have regular letter writers who praise the political right and damn the left, while others take the opposite tack praising the left and attacking the right. The letters to the editor and comment sections of our websites even give readers a chance to disagree with folks like me who dare to express an opinion.

A wise man once told me that as long as we live in a country with freedom of speech, sooner or later, someone will disagree. Amen to that.

And, your local paper, with all its features, (including the crossword puzzle) will cost you less than an ice cream cone.

It is no secret that the internet and its collection of news and entertainment sites compete with newspapers for readers and advertising dollars.

With a click or two on your smartphone or iPad, you can access a lot of information, from the latest Red Sox box score to political rants and cute puppies. But there is not much on the news in your hometown.

I know the NY Times did a feature story last week on Wiscasset's Red's Eats and how its iconic lobster roll now costs $34. But don't expect the Times to explain your local property taxes.

And the Times obit page won't tell you that your neighbor's aunt's passed away and when and where you can pay your respects.

The major daily papers, TV networks and cable chat shows won't devote one column inch or 15 seconds of air time to the local high school graduation.

They won't offer a pat on the back to praise the local Y for opening up its building so 23,500 of our neighbors could get vaccinated. And the Y didn't charge Lincoln Health to use the space, either.

Last week, many national news sites retold the oddball story of a Provincetown lobster diver who found himself inside the mouth of a humpback whale. Don't worry, the whale spat him out. I wonder how many credited the local paper, the Cape Cod Times, for discovering the story. My bet? Few or none.

I guess this is my roundabout way of offering a pat on the back to my colleagues at community newspapers here and around the nation. Week in and week out, the little guys performed pretty darn well, despite the worst pandemic we have experienced since 1918.

If I were on the Pulitzer committee, I would vote to award an extraordinary citation to all the nation's small town papers for their exceptional community service during the pandemic.

But I am not on the Pulitzer committee, so I guess that won't happen.

But it should.