The Loudoun Times Mirror, the local paper for the (once) farming community where I grew up in Northern Virginia, was the first newspaper I ever worked for. I wrote features the summer I worked there during college. My memory is lousy, but I do recall a couple of stories about the annual 4-H Fair (a very big deal!) and a teenage archery champion. I also distinctly remember the wizened other reporters (who must have been all of 30 or so) telling me that I had better know what I was getting into.
The Loudoun Times became less important to readers over the years, not simply because of changing habits, but also its own coverage. And that’s why other local papers popped up. But all of the local papers are trying to figure out what to do to remain vital. (As evidenced by the front page, which I pulled from Scott Karp in a post about the bigger issues facing newspapers.)
One thing that the Loudoun Times used to be really good at was telling local, personal stories. There used to be a section in the paper devoted to a short round of important news from each of the little towns: Waterford, Hamilton, Round Hill, even tiny (at the time) Ashburn. I think it was called Out and About or Around Towns. In any case, the section contained mundane bits of information about recent weddings, the return home from college of a local kid, garden club meetings. But it was their everydayness and their insights into what was truly important to each of those distinct towns that made them interesting, and a must read for me.
Reminds me of blogs. Nothing seems more personal than local news. Seeing the picture above, made me think about how well the Loudoun Times, or any of the many many local papers know that. But now they have cut back pages and devoted less, it seems, to the ultralocal. Which has to be where blogs come in and where an alliance can be made between the papers and the local bloggers. It’s not so far from where the Loudoun Times started afterall. The people who wrote the local section? Local volunteers.
(Actually, after visiting Karp’s blog again to grab the link to the original post I saw about the paper, I see that he’s thinking along these lines too.)