If, like me, you had spent four decades working for good, wholesome, family-owned community newspapers and not one of those Satan-worshiping mega-corporations that produce most of our country's huge daily papers, you would already know which ones are on the side of right and which ones aren't.
You already would have spent a lot of time and energy attempting to explain why your product is better than those created by faceless, heartless professionals in tall buildings basing their often-idiotic decisions on surveys, statistics and focus groups.
The paper you hold in your hand is the result of a bunch of people who gather to make a product that contains interesting stories told and put together in interesting ways. We don't do focus groups, and we don't have much use for the faceless, heartless types.
The way it works in community newspapers is, we ask ourselves: What would I want to read about? What would I think if it was written about me or my family? Am I going to be able to go back out into my community next week and talk to people without getting punched in the nose? Are all sides of the story being told? Is it fair? Is it true?
Exhibit A when I am defending my papers against the large, once-daily mega-paper that pretends to contain all the news you want and need (even though it's owned by people who live on the other end of the country who wouldn't know what you want and need from Shinola) is the bulletin board in any local school. Take a look at one of these at your local high school and count the clippings pinned to it and take notice what publication those clippings are from.
Oh, sure, there's likely to be something on that bulletin board that was cut out of the big (used-to-be) daily. But I promise there will be many more from this paper. I know this because, let's face it, this is what we do. We cover our community.
You'll see stories about sports of all kinds boys, girls, even the lesser sports, like skiing and tennis and wrestling and lacrosse. You'll see feature stories on kids raising money, dance teams, school plays, reading programs, robotics teams, kids starting nonprofits, prize-winning teachers and on and on. Part of the reason for this drastic imbalance (between us and that other big fat once-daily paper) is that we aren't trying desperately to be The New York Times. Those other guys are.
We are much more concerned with being a legitimate, contributing member of our community. That's why if you take part in school district or city or chamber of commerce groups and activities, the newspaper-type people you are most likely to run across will be one of us.
You're not so likely to bump into one of those people from that other paper I've been referring to. It's almost like they don't HAVE actual human beings working there. I've never encountered any of them at the Tigard Balloon Festival, the Tualatin Crawfish Festival, the Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts or in Leadership Beaverton or ANY of the countless community events where you will always find our newspapers and our company represented.
No, one gets the distinct impression that many of these struggling, daily newspaper companies are run by a big dumb machine that just doesn't understand your peculiarly human ways of looking at things. That's the only way I can account for the fact that they keep shooting themselves in the foot by eliminating days of circulation, constantly changing their format, altering the way they pay employees and generally making one stupid decision after another.
To borrow a line from comedian David Steinberg, these people may be among that segment of the population who sell their children to buy whiskey. But it may be more a case of ignorance than evil. I'll let somebody else decide that.
(Former managing editor of several community newspapers, including the Woodburn Independent, Lake Oswego Review and the Times papers, Kelly is chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.)