I knew very little about breeding bulls and barley shows, but I got to write about them. It was my job, about 18 years ago. I have all of the WordPerfect files saved on a hard drive to prove it.
I had dial-up internet at home at the time, internet search wasn’t what it is now, and I actually had to talk to people to find out information. I couldn’t just huddle in front of my screen and let Google do my job.
“We just got the last issue of the Cavalier County Republican,” my dad said on the phone a few weeks ago. “The gal in charge is taking a new job, and that’s it.”
I guess they couldn’t find anyone to replace her. The labor shortage shows no mercy.
An era is over; that was probably the last best little county paper around.
The Devils Lake Daily Journal has been reduced in physical dimension and page size, overrun by AP filler. The Towner County Record Herald is a shell of its former self, just a few pages when it used to be acres of photos and news, such as who was visiting whom, and if they played cards or had coffee.
Those still working these little papers have a fight on their hands. Fewer people to write about or read what you write, schools consolidated to one or two per county, and an emptying farmland where everyone is digitally connected and turn to Facebook for their local news and events. They have to work harder, with less.
I was a stringer.
I sat in meetings and drove around and used my own digital camera, getting $25 per article plus mileage. For a while, I even had a little tech column. It was good work. I felt giddy, as if I was possibly on a path to live out all of the movies set in newspapers.
His Girl Friday. All The President’s Men. Deadline. State of Play. Zodiac. The Paper. Absence of Malice. Woman of the Year. Citizen Kane. Spotlight.
There are so many.
Podunk reporting is far less glamorous than you’d imagine; it can be tough. People find your phone number in the phone book and call you if they don’t like what you wrote. In my first book, There Are Dinosaurs In The Fields, I wrote about the time there was an unfortunate death right around the time a story ran. I won’t rehash that here, though I learned the importance of cautious editing.
The paper closing down is a real loss.
Hyper-local information is just about gone. Facebook doesn’t replace it, though it gives the illusion as such. As Big Tech censorship continues to clamp down and control information, every small newspaper that closes is a death to information that directly affects your life.
Who will sit at the school, city, and county meetings and take notes and let you know who said what? Who will publish the meeting minutes? Who will tell you what the water board decided? You want it to be people who live in, and care about, the county, because that makes them accountable.
The larger newspapers that remain, like the Bismarck Tribune, seem to be staffed often by young people trying to build a portfolio so they can get to a larger city. And to do that, they need to write flashy stories, the kind that our often left-leaning media notices and appreciates even if the people whose lives make up the news aren’t as thrilled.
They do not write stories about barley shows.