Still journalism at its best

“Newspapers cannot be defined by the second word—paper. They’ve got to be defined by the first word—news.” — Arthur Sulzberg, Jr. American journalist, New York Times publisher 1992 to 2018

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The week just ended, October 3-8, was National Newspaper Week.

This 81st annual National Newspaper Week recognizes the service of newspapers and their employees across North America and is sponsored by Newspaper Association Managers. “Community Forum” is this year’s theme. 

Having spent the better part of half a century in the newspaper business, I can attest that the community journalism forum has been the core business model of successful newspapers from the beginning. It will be the core business model of those that remain viable in the years to come. To be clear, despite hype heralding the end of newspapers heard from some corners, the future is positive for community forum journalism. And newspapers are the stronghold for that brand of journalism. 

That philosophy has never been expressed better than by Carmage Walls, founder of Southern Newspapers, Inc. and a member of the Texas Newspaper Hall of Fame. In 1953, Mr. Walls expressed his personal philosophy in a letter to a young publisher. In part, he wrote, “…wealth cannot be made by doing nothing, nor can we expect long to acquire something for nothing. Therefore, I have always striven to earn more, or to put it another way, to give more into the world than I expect to take out for my own use and for the use of those that I am responsible for.

“The same philosophy will partly apply to the newspaper. My conception of a newspaper is that it is the greatest force for good or evil in a community. It is a semi-public utility. We who are fortunate in holding stock in a newspaper, I consider but temporary custodians of this service vehicle in the community. By our ownership of the stock we also assume tremendous responsibilities, first to the public that we service, second to the employees and lastly to the stockholders.”

That message embodying the spirit of community forum is just as timely today as it was when it was written. Moreover, that spirit of a newspaper belonging to the community makes it just as rewarding today as the day I entered the profession a few years after graduation from high school. 

Many with whom I graduated in the MPHS class of ’66 walked the stage that night with a clear vision of their future. They also graduated with honors after four years of college and are by now comfortably retired from a distinguished and rewarding career.

Let’s be clear once more. I was not one of them.

My aspirations varied but included a teacher, a truck driver, a professional drag racing driver, and an undertaker, to name a few. Leaving Kilgore College with visions of being the next Frank Lloyd Wright of architects was erased by struggles with math. A touch of partying may or may not have been involved as well. Clearly, my best memories of KJC centered around playing in the college band and traveling all over the country with the world-renowned Rangerette drill team.

East Texas State University in Commerce allowed me to escape with a diploma after which a brief encounter with public teaching school sent me searching for something else. That’s when Morris Craig at The Monitor, a weekly newspaper in Naples, said, “Come work for me until you figure out what you want to do.” As they say, the rest is history. And as I say, that was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I have always said there is no other job in town, no better ticket to the catbird seat for knowing more people or knowing more about what is going on than with the local paper. There is also no more rewarding business than being a part of serving the community. 

The local newspaper, in fact, may not always be delivered as ink on paper. But good money says that day is nowhere near dawning. If and when it does arrive, even the success of newspapers by any other format will be journalism. 

And to be perfectly clear in conclusion, newspapers will always be the stronghold for journalism at its best.

—Leon Aldridge

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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, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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