“This has been a great year for journalism in general. People really love journalists and newspapers now more than ever,” I sarcastically deadpanned to half a dozen blank stares.
“I’m just kidding. You know, it’s been pretty tough lately,” I carried on, trying to let them know it was all right to laugh at my attempted humor.
This was the scene at the December luncheon of the Ozark Chamber of Commerce. “Good Afternoon Ozark,” became a face-to-face meeting with our current business climate. We were asked to split into small discussion groups and reflect back on our most celebrated accomplishments of 2019.
I hate to admit, but it was hard for me to come up with anything.
The Christian County Headliner News did win the 2019 Missouri Press Association General Excellence Award for being the best newspaper in its class for mid-sized weekly newspapers. However, we did see a streak of four consecutive Gold Cup Awards come to a halt. The Gold Cups, and there are six awarded each year, are given to the newspapers that cumulatively amass the most points for winning first, second or third place awards in 50 different categories. It takes a good deal of time and a good deal of entry fee money to win a Gold Cup, and we came up short in 2019.
Still, I don’t think the average Christian County resident really gives a rip about the awards that the local newspaper wins or does not win. People tend to care if something is covered or not covered, and the quality of coverage is but a distant point of caring, if there is even such a point at all.
I remember running into Dave Berry, the former publisher of this very newspaper, at the Missouri Press Association conference in Kansas City moments before collecting our year’s haul of awards. He has been in the newspaper business longer than I’ve been alive, and he’s a big reason why I work here at the Headliner News.
“Keep fighting the good fight,” Berry told me.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve resolved to avoid telling people how they should feel. Your emotions, your resolve, your opinions all belong to you. I can’t feel your feelings or think your thoughts. For this reason, one of my favorite compliments to receive is something along the lines of, “You know, the story you wrote made me sit back and go, ‘Hmm…’ I had to think for a minute.” We want you to read, think and feel, and then formulate your own unique thought. That’s the exact effect we’re after.
We will still try to win awards for quality. We will still celebrate our accomplishments, at least a little bit. Whether you really care or not is up to you. Our business is like the retail shop or the restaurant down the street. You’ll either like the clothing or the food and frequent the place and support the business, or you won’t. It’s your decision to make so long as the lights are still on, someone is still in our office and we’re still printing newspapers.
In Martinez, California, a Bay Area city of more than 35,000 people, the Martinez News-Gazette printed its final edition on Dec. 29, bringing about the end to 161 consecutive years of publishing, informing and challenging its readers to think for themselves.
The dean of University of California-Berkeley’s journalism school, Edward Wasserman, commented on the closure in a piece for the San Francisco Chronicle. He compared the Martinez newspaper’s exchange of information on politics, crime and other localized issues related to life in Martinez with what else is out there, free exchange of opinions on the internet and in person.
“There’s not really a replacement institution emerging,” Wasserman told the Chronicle reporter. “It’s not the same thing as having a paper that chronicles a shared reality for a given community.”
At one time, the newspaper in Martinez had 50 employees. It has two full-time employees as it closes.
I have do doubt that many readers in Martinez are saddened by the news, but that thousands more are indifferent. The sadness won’t catch up to the indifferent for quite some time, but there will be a day where they wish they still had the News-Gazette. No one will be able to help them read, decide, feel and think freely then.
That’s why here in Ozark, Nixa and the surrounding towns, we resolve to press on.