Early in my newspaper career, when we took a break from gathering news, we had to pass the basement printing press to get to the coffee shop.
We’d traipse down the back stairs, across the basement past fat rolls of newsprint and into the break room. The woman who managed the place served up black coffee and thick caramel rolls. She cranked up the volume on her radio whenever a Dylan song came on. Sometimes on afternoon breaks, the press run would begin and the floor would vibrate under our feet. On our way back to the newsroom, we’d pause to watch the web of newsprint stream across the press and land in folded stacks of newspapers, the ink still warm and damp.
For my generation of newspaper people, that was a magical part of the process. Each edition that came off the press was a reward. It made up for the noise and sweat and phone calls and chaos that went into gathering a day’s worth of information aimed at telling the readers in our community what they might wish to know as they made their decisions each day.
I don’t know if newsrooms fascinate visitors to a paper, but I’ve never seen a group of school kids or community leaders who could hide their excitement when they arrived on a tour just as the press cranked up. I don’t know if the experience thrilled them as it always did me, but it should have. Real news is essential.
Well, the press runs don’t happen as often these days. Fewer papers exist, and those that remain in operation often have fewer days when they print an actual, hold-in-your-hands edition of a newspaper. For my generation, that’s sad, but things change.
Much of the news generated by newspapers is served up online. That’s a different delivery system, one without a fleet of trucks to haul papers around town and across the region. It’s still news, though, and the people who work in the news business still try to produce stories that tell readers in their community things they might need to know as they make their decisions each day. With all of the other sources of information that exist, the stories from real news organizations may be more important than ever before.
All this past week, news outlets have observed National Newspaper Week. It’s a time for those in the business to reflect on their current status and to consider possible changes that would make their newspapers even more relevant to their communities. The theme for this year’s observance is “Community Forum,’’ a fancy way of saying newspapers need to remain connected with the people in their communities and need to show their relevance by putting together news that tells people what’s going on.
“We need the facts about what is going on in our community, and we can only get that in our local newspaper,’’ writes Brian J. Allfrey, executive director of the Utah Press Association. “Newspapers are embedded in the community.’’
Indeed, newspapers – no matter what platform they use to present the news – are embedded in the community. The reporters, editors and photographers who work for newspapers are regular citizens. They’re just fascinated with everything that goes on around them and they try to share that fascination in their stories.
Newspaper people I’ve known are invested in their towns and cities. They coach soccer, sing in the church choir, volunteer for river cleanup weekends, bring cookies and hot dishes to school gatherings and do all the other things community members do. They care what happens in the city, the school system and the county. And they care about the other people in their community.
A guy I knew for ever so long, David Kranz, is remembered by colleagues for the Sunday morning he visited the newsroom, took a call from a subscriber whose paper hadn’t arrived, grabbed a newspaper, hopped in his car and drove to personally deliver the news.
Dave was special, but so are so many of the women and men in the news business. Every day of the year, they deliver for us. Once a year, we celebrate that.