Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

May 6, 2013

Tidbits: The value of a community newspaper

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — I'll be the first to agree the life of a reporter isn't glamorous, especially when you work at a small town newspaper. There's deadline pressure and there's the local government meetings that seem to last eons. Your social life has to be scheduled around local festivals and events and, again, more meetings. You can be called out in the middle of the night in the freezing rain to go to a crime scene or a house fire or a wreck. You'll see the best and worst of our community, and that can take a toll.

And, because this is still a small town and I'm going to run into readers as I go about my daily business, the fact that you can't please all of the people all of the time can get...uncomfortable. Sometimes people, especially those close to a story, don't agree with an outsider's — that's me and my fellow reporters — take on a meeting or event.

I've had my integrity questioned while enjoying my dinner or shopping for groceries. I've even had a few folks question my parentage outside of the 9 to 5 environment.

And when I mess up, the whole county is going to see it. Talk about pressure.

But I've never considered my job to be "bad." In fact, most days, I truly love what I do. It's interesting work and no two days are ever the same, and I believe there is real value to providing the community with in-depth coverage of what's happening right here.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find newspaper reporter ranked at the very bottom of the 2013 Career Cast jobs survey. That's right, my profession is considered a worse job than lumberjack with its low pay, remote working locations and hazardous working conditions, and enlisted military personnel with its high stress and the fact you will likely be shot at or put into life-or-death situations.

Generally, no one shoots at me as I go about my duties. Occasionally I'll be subjected to veiled or not-so-veiled critiques of my work, but I rarely feel harassed.

The low ranking comes from the stress of regular deadlines and the increasing pressure to be the first with a story. Pay for newspaper reporters has historically been on the low end of professional salaries. I can't really complain about that. I knew it going in. My professors in college asked for a show of hands of those in an intro to communications course that were "taking the vow of poverty" and training to join the print journalism profession.

But the continued stories of the demise of newspapers took a toll on people's outlook for the profession. Some are still saying that print will be dead within a decade, or at the very least, my lifetime.

The perceived decline of print journalism came at the worst possible time, the economic collapse of 2008. On top of increasing competition from the Internet, advertisers were also cutting back on their advertising budgets. That led to a belt-tightening across the industry and multi-tasking newsrooms had fewer bodies to share the work load in many cases.

But print is not dead — not by a long-shot.

Look at Warren Buffett, who has become a newspaper magnate. In 15 months, his investment firm Berkshire Hathaway acquired 28 daily newspapers for $344 million. This is not a man known for making unwise investment decisions. Why would he want to join what many have said is a sinking ship?

"Newspapers continue to reign supreme, however, in the delivery of local news," Buffett said. "If you want to know what's going on in your town — whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football — there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job."

In my opinion, community journalism is the best form of journalism. Why? Because it's the news that matters the most to you.

Sure, those knuckleheads in Washington can make a mess of things, but decisions made by your local school board will have a greater impact on your child's education than an edict from on high.

If you want to know who scored the winning touchdown in the elementary football championship, you're not going to turn to the large metropolitan papers that serve the region and you're not going to turn on CNN. You're going to look to the Crossville Chronicle.

For more than 100 years, the Chronicle has been serving the community, providing in-depth coverage of our local governments, our courts and our schools. We also offer an opportunity for our many volunteer and civic organizations to share their good work with the community, to celebrate the successes of our children and to share the pride we all have in our business community.

That's why the Chronicle is still viable and still growing in this community. While many newspapers have seen their circulation rolls decimated, the Chronicle is fortunate to have not only maintained our readership, but gained. Why? Because the Chronicle's a great deal.

In addition to the news that you won't find anywhere else, the Chronicle also offers great values for shoppers, with regular coupon inserts, information on weekly sales for those planning their shopping lists, special events, entertainment opportunities and buyers looking to connect with sellers, both businesses and in our classifieds, which are conveniently offered online.

That's a lot of value for 50 cents an issue.

That value is why I'm comfortable saying Crossville will be served by a thriving newspaper presence for years to come. Sure, we will have to adapt and change with the environment, but the local news you crave will be here.

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Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.