No coincidence: good local newspapers = good place to live
There’s a basic human longing for a sense of place, some part of the world that’s home, a place where you are a part of something that feeds your soul. Find it, feel it, and you’re one of the lucky ones.
The first that seemed right to a boy not yet a man were the tall piney woods and slow moving creeks where the piedmont meets the coastal flats and swamps. We’d run the woods near our neighborhoods when we could and spend summer days bending down to pull gummy tobacco leaves from the stalk, boys barely in our teens aching for spending money. Nights we’d wander the same woods, build fires to gather around and trade stories of big plans, furtive kisses and broken homes.
School holidays we’d head to my father’s home along the Pee Dee River, to uncles and aunts and cousins who woke before dawn to feed the dogs, get the trucks loaded and head out for the hunt. We’d bring home quail, rabbits, doves, duck, whatever was the season, clean and cook’em that same day. I can still feel that pre-sunrise anticipation, the excitement of the hunt ahead of us, the satisfaction of the supper I had helped bring home. The entire visit my brothers and I would endure the endless needling about being city boys, and I learned early to admire the country relatives who seemed to know so many things that their generation took to their graves.
Then came the mountains. I was 17 when I first visited, and I was hooked. During my years in and around Boone I studied hard enough, but I was often in the woods, camping, hiking, splashing in some cold creek, perched somewhere as a witness to a stunning sunset that looked as if God himself was painting the sky. After a few years away, Lori and I made it back, this time to Haywood County. We’ve called these mountains home for 30 years.
The importance of that sense of belonging that I feel for this place struck me while attending the North Carolina Press Association’s awards ceremony last week in Raleigh. I looked around the room at an event I’ve been attending on and off for a few decades, and the room has changed. Most of the publishers whose families had owned their newspapers for a generation or two are gone. The number of privately held media companies has shrunk to just a handful. Even many smaller community papers are now owned by the big chains.
Those corporations don’t always have the best interests of their communities at the forefront of their decision making, despite the best efforts of journalists still working in hollowed out newsrooms. The passion to produce quality journalism that’s meaningful to the place you call home gets sucked out of an organization when its primary mission is to attract clicks that are almost always put behind a paywall (just ask Bob Gremillion, publisher of the Asheville Watchdog, a fantastic online news source over in Buncombe County).
Which media companies won the most awards and the most prestigious honors in Raleigh last week? Those whose owners and staff are invested in the communities where they live, who are passionate about what they do (as my friend and fellow publisher David Woronoff explained in a column he wrote earlier this week for Business NC magazine), and most of whom showed up at the awards ceremony.
I’m always proud of our staff. To a person, everyone who’s hard work, creativity and enthusiasm is crucial to this newspaper’s success has a special tie to these mountains. Awards aren’t important, but doing good journalism that contributes to making this place we call home a better place to live is fundamental to this newspaper’s mission. Getting recognized for doing that just feels good.