Your community newspaper matters and here’s why

Five years at the newspaper

Five years ago, for the first time, I reported on the Kids Craft Fair for our local newspaper, the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch. The fair, hosted by the Stanislaus County Library, ran along the sides of the Modesto Library portico. My three big kids, ages nearly 7, nearly 5, and 3 surrounded the umbrella stroller and shuttled my one-and-a-half-year-old son about the place. October 2017.

Youth Craft Fair at the Stanislaus Library, Modesto branch

Our Octobers in 2015 and 2016 were rough months. 2016 was a rough year and the first half of 2017 was no better. They were our personal 2020, so to speak, with loss, isolation, and learning to find good even amid great difficulty.

I saw an advertisement in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch, a print-only newspaper that is part of MidValley Publications, for a writer and emailed the publisher, Mr. John Derby, to discuss freelancing for this paper, continuing this column which I began in 2015 and reporting on 2-3 church and community events every week.

First time reporter

As for reporting, that first event was the curviest of learning curves as I walked my children around the portico crowded with over 100 young vendors and their families. I awkwardly stopped to talk to different sellers to discover the local angle, the link that ties an event in Modesto to our own community.

As I began to attend events I might not otherwise have attended, ask questions, learn the background of the event, its purpose, and the motivation, experiences and stories of those involved, I found that my appreciation and enjoyment of the event itself deepened. One begins to notice more things, like how frantic first-time caterers are, or how relaxed organizers are once the event gets going and they are finally sitting with a glass of wine and taking it in. The personal experience becomes heightened by tuning into the experience of others. I witnessed the challenges faced to make it come together and the pleasure of success when hard fundraisers are over. And overall these are the mission behind what the person is doing.

What the community paper does

Getting to know you

By focusing solely on the local, the community newspaper introduces you to your neighbors and helps you to know and recognize one another. Author Wendell Berry, The Need to be Whole theorizes that it is the lack of knowledge of one another that might be at the heart of many of our society’s problems. The bigger the community, the easier it is to fly under the radar and go unnoticed. Not so in the small town.

That discomfort of the fish bowl is not what we’re after. Rather, it’s the celebration. At Main Street Deli, I sat down with a little leaguer about to travel to Washington DC to capture in words his story and his success. At teh Courthouse, watched Hughson High School Mock Trial students gear up for their next trial. On the high school campus academic decathlon students who were on the path to nationals told me their stories.

Sharing your stories

On these pages, we have the opportunity to share your stories and the good work being done in this town. The intention is not to sugarcoat, but to spotlight. And we do that as an independent press.

Print slows us down. It presents the opportunity to pause and be present to the physical and limited world around us, rather than the digital window that opens up to the entire universe from as far away as the telescope or scientific theories can reach to the most hidden and abstract thoughts of the human mind presented with words on a screen.

Making a difference

This is the area we can affect. City Council elections are ones where your vote makes a difference, no matter what side of the political fence you fancy.

Volunteer work in this town helps individuals you can meet and know and see again after the job is done.

When you serve a fundraising dinner, attend graduation or imbibe samples at Taste of Hughson, it is alongside people you may already know or could meet and get to know even better at the next event.

My background in psychology inclines me to listen to the words of others, to discover the story and motivation therein that ties it all together, and to be able to present that narrative in an unbiased way.

We have a lot of dinners, especially drive-thru dinners. There are fundraisers and community events designed to support local businesses and projects. There are parades aplenty.

And for all of that, we’re here, ready to share those stories, those successes.

That’s the power of the positive press.