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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 21, 2005


We’re not working on a chain gang, our coverage is unfettered
 
 
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
 
Much of the news that matters in our everyday lives is local. This is often forgotten as we read wire-service reports or listen to network newscasts on national issues.
 
It was brought home to me earlier this month as I traveled to Edmonton in Alberta, Canada to attend the annual convention of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. (The society was generous to pay for me to attend since I was named to its Golden Dozen of editorial writers.)
 
For a number of years, I have read the society’s publication, Grassroots Editor, but now I could meet the editors from different parts of the world and learn about their news.
 
The most stunning news that week came from London and was covered internationally — on July 7, terrorists bombed subway trains and a bus during rush hour.
 
Jeremy Condliffe from the Congleton Chronicle in Cheshire, UK, was matter-of-fact in his response. "We knew it was going to happen," he said. "Everybody was expecting it; so they don’t panic."
 
On July 8, Condliffe said that he had been in touch with colleagues in England and the "coverage was factual" with "no backlash against the Islamic community."
 
He concluded, "In a way, it’s a relief to have it over because, now that England’s had it, it’s someone else’s turn."
 
I worried that Adela Navarro Bello, general news editor of the Tijuana weekly, Semanerio Zeta, didn’t make it to the conference. She has survived assassination attempts and her colleague, Francisco Javier Ortiz Franco, who helped establish Zeta 25 years ago, was gunned down by drug traffickers last year in Tijuana. Conference organizers said she didn’t attend for family reasons.
 
Of course, not all of the issues of concern to weekly editors are matters of life and death, but they matter in an intensely personal way. The issues that riveted society members were as diverse as the places they call home.
 
A central issue in Alberta has to do with the boom at Fort McMurray — the site of the world’s biggest natural oil spill. A huge industry has developed to mine the oil sands to process crude oil for refining. Several editors at the conference had papers dealing with the repercussions from that.
 
The outgoing president of the society, David Burke, is the editor of a family-owned weekly in Tuam, Ireland, 20 miles inland from Galway. His community, he said, suffers "from the Galway vacuum."
 
A front-page story in a recent issue of The Tuam Herald discussed the possibility that "Tuam could be left courthouse-less should the courts be centralized to Galway."
 
Further, Burke lamented the move towards the consolidation of newspapers in Ireland.
 
"The lack of real editorial voice...is frightening," he said.
 
He also said, "America is the single most important country in the world" while lamenting its recent direction of becoming "a single-opinion state."
 
Varied voices
 
But prize-winning weekly editorials from across North America highlighted different local issues. Twelve were honored as the Golden Dozen with one of them receiving the Golden Quill Award.
 
Bradley Martin, editor of the Hickman County Times in Centerville Tennessee, said "a light bulb went on" in his head when a local rescue-squad captain said of a troublesome member, "I just want him out of this county."
 
Martin wrote in his editorial: "There you have it: Just toss him out. No talking. No meetings. No letters, no telephone calls, no cooling-down period. Not even a bribe."
 
Martin goes on then with a long list of those who should be expelled: "After jailbirds and litterbugs, I would say that possums (for their safety), drunk drivers (for our safety), wife-beaters, tax cheats, door-to-door salesmen, most political candidates, all non-voters, some used-car salesmen, every out-of-season hunter, Cruella De Ville (I’ve seen her here), right-handers (I’m a lefty; sorry) and anyone who doesn’t admire Minnie Pearl ought to be packing their bags."
 
A breakfast-table conversation with Martin and his wife revealed that Centerville was the hometown of the Grand Ole Opry star and the Martins are spearheading a drive to furnish a museum in Pearl’s honor.
 
Richard Mostyn, editor of The Yukon News, wrote about what the contest judge termed "the touchy issues of ethnicity and aboriginal privilege."
 
"In February, James Allen was hunting bison like it was 1872," wrote Mostyn. "This guy, who happens to be chief of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations...aimed at a herd of the animals and opened fire, squeezing off four rounds and emptying his rifle, which, by the way, wasn’t powerful enough to humanely hunt bison."
 
Allen was charged with shooting too many animals — of a species at risk — and hunting with a rifle not powerful enough for the job.
 
Mostyn concludes of the episode, "First, it has damaged the widespread and inherently dangerous belief that aboriginal people are selfless stewards of the territory’s natural resources.
 
"And, rather than expose racism within Environment, the affair has shown that people are people. That laws exist for very good reasons.
 
"And, finally, that aboriginal leaders must abide by them just like everyone else."
 
Susan Belliveau, editor of The Record in Springhill, Nova Scotia, wrote about the death of Lieut. Chris Saunders after a fire aboard his submarine, bought cheaply by the Canadian government.
 
She takes to task Prime Minister Paul Martin who said Saunders "gave his life saving his country..."
 
Canadian Forces have been short-changed for years, she said. "The Canadian government didn’t even provide our military with proper camouflage gear when it sent them to Afghanistan to back the US government in its military strike against that third-world country. While the American soldiers easily blended into the sandy terrain, the Canadian men and women stood out like bull’s-eye targets..."
 
She concludes, "It’s a slap in the face to the people of Canada and every veteran, dead or alive, who has served his or her country in an effort to protect our freedom.
 
"No, Mr. Martin, Lieut. Saunders didn’t sacrifice his life; his government did."
 
From the community
 
Bill Lueders, news editor of the Isthmus in Madison, Wis., was the Golden Quill winner. He said in his acceptance speech that reporting in weekly newspapers arises from the community; it is not thrust upon it.
 
Weeklies, he said, report on stories that would not otherwise be covered. "When an ordinary person comes to us with a question — perhaps his first time going to the media — it’s important we are there for them," said Lueders. "The stories I’m proudest of come truly from the people."
 
The final award of the evening was the crown jewel of the convention. The Eugene Cervi Award is given for a career of outstanding public service through community journalism and for adhering to the highest standards of the craft.
 
This year’s winner was Frank Wood.
 
He told the crowd, "I first walked into a print shop when I was 10 years old...I was hooked from that time on. Sixty-seven years later, I still love this industry as much as I did then."
 
He recounted how he and his wife, Agnes, bought their first Wisconsin weekly in 1953. "We had 700 bucks and were dumb as rocks," he said. They borrowed $17,000 more to purchase the Denmark Press.
 
Over the years, they acquired more papers and raised eight children. At the same time, Wood worked for 30 years as a college professor.
 
He and his wife used to joke, "The first one to give up had to take the kids," he said.
 
The society’s new president, Carol O’Leary, praised Wood for his helping Bosnian journalists attempt to bring freedom of the press to their country; he is currently seeking sponsors for a press he wants to donate to Bosnia.
 
The Cervi Award was presented to Wood by Richard McCord, a long-time friend and colleague. At Wood’s request, McCord had traveled to Green Bay, Wis. in 1989 as his Green Bay News-Chronicle battled Gannett, America’s biggest newspaper chain.
 
McCord at the time was editor of a weekly he had founded in Santa Fe; he had already fended off Gannett’s attacks.
 
McCord’s research led to his 1996 exposé, The Chain Gang: One Newspaper Versus the Gannett Empire. His book detailed Gannett’s attacks to gain monopoly control, wiping out competitors in small markets.
 
When Wood bought his first paper in 1953, more than three-quarters of America’s daily newspapers were locally owned. Now more than three-quarters of them are owned by chains.
 
McCord described Wood as a compassionate employer, setting up the first employee pension plan of any weekly in the country.  And he described Wood as ardent in his fight to maintain a newspaper with an independent voice for Green Bay.
 
"He put 20 years and $15 million into the fight," said McCord.
 
"This is the way the newspaper business is going and in some ways the whole world...Big, big, big, money, money, money," said McCord.
 
Last July, Wood agreed to sell his papers to Gannett.
 
Wood told the editors gathered in Edmonton, "Dick’s book proved to be prophetic."
 
McCord had written, "Unlike Frank Wood, Gannett could wait. As soon as the coast was clear, the remorseless pressure would begin again. And in the end, it would prevail. Though the end might now come later rather than sooner, the News-Chronicle would still be crushed by this giant that had never learned that the greatest thrill is not to kill, but to let live."
 
Tom Broker, editor of the News-Chronicle, wrote of Wood after the sale was announced, "And I thought this sale to Gannett, a company he had battled for years with every fiber of his being, must gall him terribly. He had to know he would be labeled a hypocrite and a sell-out, and that, too, must have eaten at him. He certainly knew the sale would be a concession that he, an extremely and justifiably proud man, was personally at the end of a long love affair with news and newspapers.
 
"In this moment of contemplation, I realized Wood made the ultimate sacrifice: He had put reputation and pride aside to salvage as best he could the newspaper he had nurtured and the jobs of those who worked for him.
 
"It was the single most courageous act I have ever witnessed."
 
McCord, in handing Wood his award, concluded, "He has fought the good fight."
 
The crowd gave him a standing ovation.
 
We, at The Altamont Enterprise, believe a free and decentralized press is the best way to serve our democracy. We are committed to writing stories that come "truly from the people" and we are proud to be an independent voice for our community.


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