Watoga Trail Report

A good cup of coffee and the latest edition of The Pocahontas Times has become a weekly tradition for thousands of subscribers throughout the country who can’t wait to see what the present holds for residents, as well as what the past can teach us all. K. Springer photo

Ken Springer
Watoga Park Foundation

The Local Paper ~ Why we need it now more than ever

“I like to hold a newspaper in my hand while relaxing in a comfortable chair with a fresh cup of coffee.”  That was Ruth Taylor’s sentiment, which was echoed by many others when recently asked why the local newspaper was important to them.

Some said they liked the heft of the paper, some even claimed that they enjoyed the smell of the newsprint. A newspaper is something tangible, something we can linger over. We can put it down and pick it up later. We can read it at the breakfast table or perhaps another room in the house not generally associated with reading –  allowing for a bit of multitasking if you will.

Some prefer one section of the paper to read first; the classifieds, sports, letters to the editor, and yes, even the obituaries. These preferences reflect our interest in local events – we are reading about people we know, our families, neighbors and friends.

One of the major differences between large-city newspapers and The Pocahontas Times is that the writers and editor have to face their readers every day.

Small town newspapers must maintain a certain degree of sensitivity not generally exercised by the large metropolitan papers and tabloids. As one reporter for a small-town newspaper in Wyoming said, “You have to remember that the person you are talking to, is probably related to the person you are talking about.”

Another distinction of local newspapers is that the scope and breadth of what is reported vary considerably from large metropolitan papers.

“I really love that The Pocahontas Times will put a picture of a third-grader in the paper who was named “Student of the Month,” Mary Dawson said. “Imagine the positive effect that may have on that young person. That single experience could influence the entire course of his or her life.”

Of course, the most important job of any local newspaper is that of maintaining the trust of the community it serves, something I feel The Pocahontas Times has done quite admirably for many years. 

But we are not immune from the changes imposed upon us from the outside. Like it or not, the digital world is here to stay. 

Many local papers have gone to a digital-only status.  Others lose critical advertising income when the big chain stores come into the area, causing small businesses to close and putting a financial strain on local newspapers. Some end up closing their doors.

Additionally, the loss of local newspapers affects rural and lower-income areas disproportionately because access to the internet and cell service is often absent or unreliable.

Areas with aging populations show a greater preference for newspapers over digital news. These folks are far less likely to go out and buy an iPad to obtain news about their communities, and getting the news digitally at the local level may not even be an option in some areas.

In the past 15 years, over 2,100 local or regional newspapers have closed their doors for good. When this happens, the community suffers in a variety of ways. Not only are citizens deprived of local news and events, but the public oversight of local officials and politicians is diminished significantly.

The historical content of columns like Preserving Pocahontas, Fifty Years Ago, Seventy-Five Years Ago, and 100 Years Ago would be far less accessible to the public without The Pocahontas Times. The paper helps to maintain our ties to the past and the traditions of our region.

National and international news is ubiquitous and just a click away with any device if you have a cell signal or sufficient Wi-Fi service. But as we know, here in Appalachia, not every location has that access.

Although many local papers have bitten the dust or switched to solely digital content, Pocahontas County would not entirely become a “News Desert” if, God forbid, The Pocahontas Times closed its doors.

We do have the Allegheny Mountain Radio and its sole provider stations providing local, state and national news daily. For that, we are most grateful. 

The good news is that it is too early by a long shot to place all local newspapers, including our own, in the obituary column.

Newspapers rely on advertising to stay financially solvent, so they, like other businesses and services, are always at the mercy of the economy. And when you add in unexpected events like the current pandemic, everybody gets hurt, including our local newspaper.

But The Pocahontas Times has put out a newspaper for an uninterrupted 137 years since its first edition. Even the great flood of 1985 did not stop even one issue from getting out to its readers, who needed information related to the flood. Another demonstration of why local news is even more vital when such disasters hit.

When asked about the current status of The Pocahontas Times, editor Jaynell Graham said, “We have lost some advertising revenue because of the cancelation of festivals and events due to COVID-19, but we continue to attract new subscribers. You can find them in all 50 states.”

It turns out that The Pocahontas Times has a subscriber in North Pole, Alaska. Yep, you read that right, a copy of The Pocahontas Times finds its way to the North Pole* every week.

Local news is special and something we cannot take for granted. If you want national and international news, you have endless choices. For readers of various political persuasions, there are cable stations, radio stations, and newspapers that cater to nearly anyone’s political proclivities.

For those who prefer their national news raw and unfiltered, good luck. Most of it is delivered to us by talking heads who play loose and fast with the facts to suit their particular world view. Much of the national news requires critical thinking and that is a taxing exercise. That fact alone makes reading a local paper more pleasure than pain.

As one fellow I met on the Greenbrier River Trail put it, “Hey, just give me the facts, I’m smart enough to know how to think about something on my own. I have to listen to the BBC just to get news that hasn’t been adulterated with a biased opinion.”

Wading through the quagmire of cable news and social media in search of “facts” is at best, challenging, and at worst, maddening. On the other hand, most people who read the local paper do so because it is enjoyable, and it offers information that affects them personally.

Where Ruth Taylor likes her Pocahontas Times with a cup of coffee, I take my Times with a glass of wine, and I savor them both. Now, let’s hear from our neighbors and friends on their thoughts about our local newspaper.

“There are two things I like about The Pocahontas Times. First, there is the long tradition of local news and editorials written (in the words of Thomas Carlyle) ‘with cool vigor and laconic pith.’ I also like the letters that address local concerns. And I appreciate the candor in some of the classifieds, ‘Cat – free to a good home, would make a good barn cat’. You can’t do better than that.” ~ David Elliott

“The importance to me, being from Ohio, (a pardonable offense) is that I can keep up with the local news and avail myself of the history of the area in The Pocahontas Times. It keeps me connected to the area which I love so much.” ~ John Goodwin, Athens, Ohio.

“I hope we can always have our local newspaper. It is especially important in a rural area such as ours. Events, cancelations, funeral notices, and scheduled meetings. I also love the way The Pocahontas Times promotes our fairs, festivals and fundraisers.” ~ Ruth Taylor

“Being a relative newcomer to Pocahontas County, I rely on The Pocahontas Times for learning about the community, its people, services offered, and the Calendar of Events. The paper presents the news that’s important and relevant to the people they serve. I feel that the paper is the lifeblood of the county.” ~ Robyn Fitzsimmons

“One of the last bastions of individuality that truly reflects the interests and concerns of our immediate neighbors is our local newspapers. Those interests and concerns are the ones that I live with and the ones that affect me on a daily basis.” ~ Margot Marshall

“I have wonderful memories of my dad sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and his newspaper. He gave due diligence to the important issues of the day.” ~ Linda Burgin

“The anticipation of getting The Pocahontas Times after my dad, Vernon, was finished reading it, was something that I looked forward to each and every Thursday. The local news inspired me to be a journalist and writer.” ~ John Dean

In closing, I would like to share one memorable sentence that I stumbled upon while reading the police blotter section of a local newspaper in southeastern, Ohio, in February of 1977, “Mrs. Fletcher of 3981 Beatty Avenue reported several schoolboys urinating dirty words in the snow in front of her house on Tuesday.”

You won’t find that tidbit in the New York Times!
Ken Springer

* North Pole, Alaska, population 2,113 people, not including elves, is in central Alaska, not at the geographic north pole.

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