Editor’s column: This is not a lecture on the importance of supporting local news (but we do appreciate your support)

  • Kevin Robertson, a pressman, walks past rolls of newsprint in the pressroom Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Each of the rolls is 48 inches wide, 50 inches in diameter and more that 11 miles long. FILE PHOTO

Published: 6/14/2019 9:51:36 AM

I try not to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations, but sometimes … it just happens. Recently, I was at the grocery store standing in the checkout line when I overheard a young girl and her mother talking about the offerings on the newspaper rack a few feet away from us. As I placed items on the conveyor belt, I caught bits and pieces of their conversation about where the Springfield Republican got its name. 

“Mom,” the girl said a couple of minutes later, “do you read The New York Times or the Daily Hampshire Gazette?” My ears perked up. 

“I read The New York Times,” the mother said. 

“Why?” the girl asked. “What’s wrong with the Gazette?”

Now, I wanted desperately to spin around and say, “Nothing — nothing’s ‘wrong’ with the Gazette!” But instead, I placed a carton of eggs on the belt and listened to what the mother had to say. She explained that the Gazette is the local newspaper and that she prefers to read The New York Times because it covers national and world news. 

At this point, I did turn around and introduce myself as the editor of the Gazette. I told the mother, who seemed a bit surprised, that I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation and that it’s so great her daughter is interested. At the Gazette, I said, I’ve been trying to invite more kids to engage with the paper, and lately we’ve been getting lots of letters to the editor from students. 

The mom suggested that maybe the Gazette should have a kids’ section. “We do, actually,” I said, “every Wednesday.”*

Don’t worry, I saved her the spiel about how she should really subscribe because local news is so important and it’s such a hard time for small-town newspapers, etc. You don’t win new subscribers by lecturing them. (On the contrary, as local media maven Michael Kusek shared: “A magazine publisher once said to me, ‘Every subscription is obtained by asking on bended knee.’”) 

But driving home, my mind kept wandering back to the mother’s explanation that she doesn’t read the Gazette because she reads The New York Times instead. Why not both? We live in an area that puts great value on “buying local,” from supporting our local farms to our local bookstores, yet too often local news gets lost in this movement.  

When I first started working at the Gazette in the summer of 2017, I would put friends on the spot and ask if they subscribed. The answer among people my age (I’m 40) was almost always no, followed by a sheepish “I would, but I already subscribe to … ” It’s a comment I’ve come to expect: Usually, this sentence ends with The New York Times, The Boston Globe or The Washington Post. And as happy as I am that these big newspapers are booming — here at the Gazette, we subscribe to them, too, as well as to the Associated Press and other wire services for state, national and world news — they are no substitute for a local newspaper. 

You might pick up The Washington Post to read about the latest Mueller Report development (you can also find that news in our pages and on our website). But the Gazette is where you go to read about how your tax dollars are being spent; what’s going on with the construction around Interstate 91’s Exit 19; the issue of light pollution in western Mass; the ripple effects of the opioid crisis in our area; the trials of Bennie Johnson, aka “Motown Man” and his fellow tenants facing eviction at the Amherst Motel; Hampshire College’s search for its next president; who’s who in high school and college sports; how one nonprofit is helping kids and young adults in foster care in Springfield and Hampshire County dress for success; where to eat and drink in Easthampton; what Mayor Narkewicz’s proposed override means for Northampton; and what to make of the heated debate between the city’s outgoing Pride spokesperson and the drag queen Hors D’oeuvres that recently played out on our Opinion page. (The other day, a writer friend who lives here emailed me to say that he and his wife can’t stop talking about that last one.) The Gazette is also where you go, whether in print or online, to read your friends’ and neighbors’ opinions on all of the above.

Here’s where I bury the lede: When my husband and I first moved to Northampton from Brooklyn around eight years ago, we didn’t subscribe to the Gazette, either. Why? Because I read the Times. I was still living with one foot in New York City. 

It was only when I got my first job at the Gazette, as the arts and culture editor, that I really started to pay attention to my local paper, and now I can’t imagine my life here without it. I don’t think it’s just coincidence that I started feeling like the Pioneer Valley was my home around the same time that I started reading the Gazette on a daily basis. I want our readers to feel that way, too.  

This is all to say — I wasn’t judging that mom in the grocery store. She wasn’t critical of the Gazette; she just didn’t seem very interested in it or even very aware of it. The onus, as the word itself suggests, is on us. As a news organization, part of our responsibility is to make sure we’re reaching out not just to readers but to potential readers and showing them why supporting local news is so vital. 

One reason why I love the idea of home delivery is because kids actually see their parents reading the newspaper, not just scrolling on their phones. When you read in front of your children, you’re modeling that behavior. But just as important, when you read the Gazette, you’re showing them that you value local news and all the voices that are represented on our pages.

Take it from someone who knows: What you gain when you invest in a community newspaper is community itself.  

 

*Our News in Education program invites young readers to play games and solve puzzles as well as to submit book reviews, jokes, poems and opinion pieces for publication. 

 

 




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