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Small Town Newspapers

What Happens When They Disappear?

By Eugenia Jones

Sadly, our neighbors in Wayne County lost their only printed newspaper a few months ago. Fortunately, a band of determined individuals recently rolled the newly established “Wayne County Weekly” hot off the press. I’m happy for them. I hope “The Weekly” survives because every hometown needs a newspaper. It wasn’t only the Wayne County incident that made me decide to write this article. I was behind on my reading and recently dived into a couple of issues of my “Reader’s Digest” magazines. Ironically, both magazines included articles concerning the sad demise of local newspapers. Both pointed to the fact that small, local newspapers are often taken for granted by the community. Communities often assume their newspaper will never disappear. They often forget newspapers are small businesses supporting the community and, in return, also need support. Needless to say, the Wayne County, KY incident and the “Reader’s Digest” articles got me to thinking. Thanks to internet, COVID-19, and other factors, local newspapers across the nation are dying. Roughly 2,000 newspapers have closed over the last fifteen years. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced many businesses to close and left others struggling to survive, has been especially hard on local newspapers because of reduced advertising-advertising that is key to a newspaper’s survival. As a result, many newspapers have closed, reduced staff, or reduced their size. It is sad.
First, there is just something unique about reading “in print.” For many, there is a special feeling when reading while holding a newspaper, book, or magazine. It’s something you just don’t get when scanning a screen. Research tends to take reading in print (particularly nonfiction such as newspapers) to a whole new level by indicating students comprehend more by reading on paper rather than on screens. If that’s the case, we certainly don’t need to lose “in print.” Secondly, when local newspapers disappear, small towns and communities are left without local news coverage. Sure, there’s Facebook and Internet; but, let’s face it. Facebook can sometimes deliver a sensational headline more quickly than a weekly newspaper, but it seldom gives the full story with all of the facts. Additionally, it seldom offers in-depth coverage of serious issues that impact the community. Then, of course, there are many services offered through local newspapers. The community calendars offering free notices for non-profits, churches, and public meetings are vital to the community….but don’t forget, newspapers need paid advertisements to be able to support this service. (In a sense, when businesses support local newspapers with paid advertising, they are also supporting space for charities, churches, and schools in the community.) Without a local newspaper, obituaries, library notes, sheriffs’ reports, court dockets, classifieds, and legal ads disappear or become much more difficult to find. However, the saddest part about the disappearance of a local newspaper is the loss of community and friends.
Out of curiosity, I thumbed through some past editions of “The Voice” to find stories unique to McCreary County. I was looking for stories that might otherwise be lost if not for a local newspaper. I was pleasantly surprised. After all, where else but the local newspaper can one read about the third largest tortoise species, a runaway African spurred thigh tortoise, munching on dandelions as it roamed about Stearns? And of course, who can forget reading about the Shoopmans’ pet turkey, Gus, who loves to cuddle? The list goes on and on. I’ll name just a few beloved individuals (some who have since passed) and bits of the community we’ve shared in “The Voice” throughout the years.
• Gib and Lois Troxell and their sweet story of the blue Christmas dress.
• Milton Morrow and Ruth Vanover with a “Taste from the Past.”
• Heavy Metal Homer.
• Surveying critters and other wildlife, including bats, dace, and bald eagles, with the US Forest Service and KY Fish and Wildlife.
• Dick and Toots Wilson with their #1 bologna sandwiches.
• Trout stocking time at Rock Creek.
• Doyle Morgan and his local barbershop.
• Beloved, banjo-pickin’ Edsel Blevins.
• Sunflowers at Barren Fork.
• The Company Man, Windle Branscum.
• Quilter Betty Duncan and husband Bill.
• Effie Neal with her many talents-including keeping varmints from her garden.
• Searching for McCreary County’s Bigfoot. (Really, no April Fools!)
• Tyler Lay and his successful kidney transplant.
• The Light Community.
• Moments in time from the memories of 94 year old Kathleen Marnhout
The list of unique individuals and bits of community I learned about through a local newspaper goes on and on-far too lengthy to share. Sadly, these are the friends and bits of community too often lost when any community’s newspaper disappears.
Yes. Wayne County, Kentucky and “Reader’s Digest” got me to thinking about how important local newspapers are to the community. For fifty cents, less than the cost of a candy bar, newspapers do indeed pack a lot of information into their pages. Bottom line, support local newspapers with advertising, subscriptions, and suggestions for articles! Because after all, when local newspapers disappear, important parts of the community disappear with them.

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