Most of us have heard the old expression, “You’ve got to change with the times.” Well, I fully understand that time changes nearly everything and that progress invariably is the result of change. However, change is not always for the better — at least not when it comes to the newspaper business.
There was a time when a good hometown newspaper took a backseat only to one other publication, the Holy Bible. News, particularly local news, was delivered in print form that households across Logan, Mingo and Boone — to name just a few localities — sought out at least weekly, or in some cases nearly every day.
Coal mining disasters, fires, and other catastrophes have resulted in eye-catching headlines and detailed reports from dedicated newspaper people who sometimes put themselves in peril just to get the “scoop” that allowed readers to follow what was happening in their respective environments. People depended on their newspaper to get accurate information on just about every subject imaginable. Reporters, usually with cameras strapped across their shoulders, could be found at just about every community function — from Little League baseball games to covering potential presidential candidates who ventured into these hills.
At one time as late as the 1980s, birth announcements and even listings of people admitted or discharged from local hospitals (Logan, Man Appalachian Regional, Guyan Valley, and Holden) were printed in The Logan Banner as a daily feature. There were even two full “funny pages” of cartoons.
While things have certainly changed and many previous newspaper features have gone by the wayside, the most important aspect that must be recaptured with at least some newspapers is, in my opinion, the investigative aspect of reporting. Newspapers have long been the watchdog that has detected government and other corruption, and it has been such risk-taking work that has kept certain forces in check for well over 100 years.
Today, with reliable reporting set aside by openly biased television news and social media fake news, no longer can certain information be considered trustworthy. Flat-out lies are being commonly accepted by the public and even argued to be the truth, despite clear facts that refute the false reporting. Facebook and Twitter, for all their good contributions to society, cannot be trusted as good news sources.
Therefore, it is imperative that newspapers not only survive the onslaught of targeted social media ignorance but also endeavor to make certain the public is aware of the truth — whether it be concerning a governmental meeting or a high school football contest.
Now, having, hopefully, made myself clear in reference to accurate reporting and its importance to society, allow me to say that after working over 10 years with The Logan Banner at various capacities — from reporter to sports editor to columnist back in the late 1970s and early 1980s — I am saddened to have in the past 20 years watched as the Logan Banner itself has been lessened by various factors, including the insurgence of social media fabrications, poor past leadership and uncaring companies.
I am not an employee of any newspaper, although I do enjoy contributing each week a column that I hope some people appreciate in one fashion or another. Currently, and for the past 21 years, I have served as one of three magistrates in Logan County. And, although at my position I certainly see and hear what is most definitely important and newsworthy information, I am not at liberty to present such material in the news media, nor should I be allowed to do so.
Nonetheless, I believe strongly in the Constitution of the United States, I endorse separation of church and state, and I believe wholeheartedly in freedom of religion, freedom of speech and most certainly freedom of the press. Therefore, it depresses me when I think of what possibly lies ahead for the newspaper business and consequently, the public in general, should factual and investigative reporting fade away.
Frankly, in small towns and counties such as Logan, without proper newspaper coverage and the fear that comes with it, corruption will blossom beyond the realm of the smiling faces and handshakes that are presented by those who always frown upon efforts to reveal the “Oz” that stands behind the curtain. In general, the public is sometimes told in a contrasting way to “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
While “The Wizard of Oz” has always been one of my favorite movies — likely because it was the first colorized movie I ever saw on television — I don’t really mean to over-dramatize this writing, but I do want to demonstrate the importance of the print media.
Like most radio personalities, newspaper people — in my opinion — are a different breed of employee. In fact, one choosing an occupation in just about any type of media field is not doing so because of the pay scale; that much I know. Therefore, I suppose one cannot expect employees to risk their livelihoods or reputations by going beyond the sphere and peaking at what lies behind the curtain, especially if their future employment hopes depend upon not doing so.
So it is that I write today, not just to expand upon the importance of newspaper reporting, but also because I have witnessed what formerly was complete newspaper teams at The Logan Banner gradually be eliminated one-by-one, before almost complete digital annihilation. Admittedly, there is more to it than just the advent of digitalization.
There was a time when The Logan Banner reached over 37,000 readers in Logan County and was delivered to almost that many households. Now, with a county population that hovers around 30,000, the home delivered version of the newspaper is nowhere in comparison, although the digital version is widely read across America, mostly by former Loganites who cherish past memories.
What I have discovered over the past 20 years is that most people would like their newspaper delivered to their homes, but because of so many business errors involving the newspaper’s past circulation department and its previous owners — where subscribers were being asked to mail their bills in while some delivery people were also being paid for the same service and not turning the payments in — customers became frustrated, especially if their newspapers were not delivered in timely fashion. Most people just want assurance that they will receive the newspaper regularly and on time.
It is my belief that a concentrated circulation effort and assurance to potential subscribers that they will receive their newspaper regularly and timely would result in many more print readers, who like myself, prefer to have a newspaper in hand, as opposed to the internet.
However, being a guy who likes to think he can change with the times, allow me to toss you this Christmas curveball suggestion. By simply telephoning 304-752-6950, you can supply a nice gift for a family member or friend.
A monthly subscription to The Logan Banner in which home or mailed delivery, including digital access, is available for just $6 per month. All you need is the person’s physical and mailing address and a telephone number for the party receiving the present. A card will be mailed announcing your gift.
Although you can subscribe for a year of 52 weekly deliveries, as for myself, I am getting several such presents for friends for three-month intervals. In other words, I’m paying $18 for the home delivery and computer access to the newspaper for each person. For me, that beats the heck out of giving socks or handkerchief gifts.
No, I won’t receive a commission for the above sales pitch. It’s just that I desire a much bigger reading audience for that grand day when the curtain is pulled and “The Wizard” is finally revealed.
Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.