I have worked in newspapers almost my entire life. It’s the only profession I have known.
Yes, I had a paper route when I was 12. It would make a cute story to write about how my route on Romaker Road for the Toledo Blade kindled my love for news — but the truth is, I hated it.
When coming home from school, the loathsome sight of that bundle of papers to deliver would almost make me physically ill. I just wanted to ride my bike or play ball down at the vacant lot with my friends.
But I was good with words and I liked to READ the paper (which was delivered to our home long before I took the route). In school my best subjects were English and history and social studies. That same year I had the paper route, I did a school project that mimicked a little newspaper. I got an A.
I was a writer and editor on my high school paper, and then started working on my college paper at the University of Toledo. The first money I ever made in the business was a $200 stipend for working as an editor my junior year — that translated to about 20 cents an hour when factoring in the true time I spent in the position.
The first scoop I worked on was a campus scandal involving misappropriated funds from a student activities council — I saw the buzz created as fellow students pored over editions of the paper in the Student Union as the incident was explained. I won an award for a feature story I wrote on a local basketball player from a rough background who was a success at UT.
I saw the impact my words could make. It was the only thing I ever really wanted to do.
As I write about those formative times, it’s National Newspaper Week. It hasn’t been often over the years that I felt compelled to affirm or justify the need for good, solid newspapers in our communities, but I am this year.
This year’s NNW theme, “Real Newspapers … Real News,” points to the importance of community reporting, watchdog journalism, local commentary, public notices and an open public forum that can be easily accessed by readers both in print and on digital platforms. Simply put, the local newspaper continues to be the leading source of reliable information in all the communities they serve.
In a world of “fake news” spread on social media — and attacks on the media from people in power — it is important for the public to know the difference between legitimate reporting by credible sources and all the noise posing as “the media.”
The landscape of news has changed, but newspapers remain the top choice for people seeking real news and reliable information. More than half of all Americans say they read their local newspapers, the print version or by accessing their websites. The nation’s newspaper audience exceeds today’s TV news watchers, while less than 5 percent of this audience tune into FOX, CNN or MSNBC as their only news source, according to a recent National Newspaper Association survey.
Just 11 percent of the survey’s respondents said non-news internet sites were their primary news source.
Contrary to what some readers believe, we have no agenda other than the most critical one: that we inform the public of happenings and information in a way that benefits us all.
Not every story is happy, not every story provides the momentary, feel-good warmth of a Facebook meme, but every story is conceived, compiled, written and edited by members of this community — by your neighbors — who are committed to reporting accurately and fairly.
If a mistake occurs — and they have — newspapers own up to them and don’t try to spin a narrative of justification or obfuscation.
Like most journalists I have known and worked with, I have never been in the business solely to get pats on the back. I certainly haven’t worked all these years at small-city dailies to become wealthy.
I have worked in newspapers because I love to be part of the community, informing readers of information that I feel is important. We are not a part of local government or law enforcement, but like those entities we serve the public to the best of our abilities, bringing useful information to the readers so they may make their judgments based on facts and knowledge.
(Jim Eckstrom is managing group editor of the Olean Times Herald and Bradford Publishing Co. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)