“The only constant may be change, but the more some things change, the more they often remain the same.”— The best of two old sayings.
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It’s a routine repeated countless times almost everywhere, every day. A pittance in coins is dropped in a slot, and the best source of local news and information that is available anywhere is in the hands of another community newspaper reader.
As I completed that exercise Sunday and glanced at the front page of The Star, the local newspaper in Boerne, Texas, I heard someone say, “You know it’s crazy, isn’t it?” I looked up to see a young man smiling at me.
I had no idea who he was and I was pretty sure he didn’t know me. After all, I was in Boerne for the first time in at least 15 years. I also didn’t know what he was going to say next. So, I just returned his cordial smile allowing him the opportunity to continue.
“My young son asked me recently what that was,” he said, nodding toward the Boerne Star newspaper rack from which I had just purchased a copy. “Something as common as a newspaper box,” as he called it. “Everyone used to know what it was.”
His words were more ironic than he would ever know. Primarily because it would take more time than I had to explain. For starters, he had no idea the random stranger he had just singled out with which to share his comments about a “newspaper box” had spent most of his life in the newspaper business.
He also had no idea that a part of that career was publishing the very same newspaper in Boerne over whose “newspaper box” we had just met. Nor did he know I was 350 miles from home and about to begin the journey back to fulfill my Monday morning duty as editor and publisher of the newspaper in Center.
An irony that didn’t occur to me until sometime later was how my mother had been circulation manager for a community newspaper for 17 years, The Mount Pleasant Tribune. Her duties included making sure the “newspaper boxes” like those on which he was commenting were stocked with papers.
He also had no idea I had just attended a three-day conference in San Marcos, the summer convention for the Texas Press Association, where more than one session addressed how the role of newspapers had been overshadowed in recent years by the social media phenomenon. And how through it all, the relevance of community newspapers has really never changed.
Had the time been available and the information been crucial to our chance meeting, I could have told him newspapers were just as important as ever in the role of dispensing information. That energetic partnerships are making headway toward re-educating and refueling a resurgence of newspapers in North America. About how newspapers representing millions of readers across North America remain the predominant source of local news, safeguarding freedom and providing credible advertising information. About how recent Neilson studies on the “top trusted adverting channels among U.S. consumers” revealed “68.7 percent said they trusted “editorial content such as newspaper articles,” and 68.5 percent said they trusted “ads in newspapers” over other sources of information. About how one of the nation’s largest newspaper groups publicizing plans earlier this year to reduce print dates just announced a postponement of those plans after recording recent spikes in subscription sales. And about one recent readership study reporting an increase in what I guessed was his age group: 30-45 years of age.
I could have shared with him the thought that should the coffee shop where we met by chance at the “newspaper box” were to ever go out of business, the community will simply have one less coffee shop. But everywhere a community newspaper goes out of business, that entire community will be adversely impacted in many ways for decades to come.
But in addition to not knowing who he had innocently engaged with his casual comment, the young man at the coffee shop in the Hill Country community last weekend also wasn’t seeking information on the state of newspapers. He was simply making conversation based on popular misconceptions perpetuated by self-proclaimed social media experts for far too long.
Newspapers are turning to alternate forms of delivery. That’s the change. But the constant is that by whatever method they are delivered or whatever they are called, community “newspapers” produced by professional journalists will still be delivering the most trusted form of communication and fulfilling their role in maintaining a free country.
And they will be doing it long after this young man’s son is telling his children stories about how many years ago when he was just a kid, he asked his father about a “newspaper box” in Boerne.
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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune, the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, the Alpine Avalanche, and The Fort Stockton Pioneer.
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