I felt sick this morning.
Sick from dissatisfaction of what was expected of me - due in part of what some people think our readers expect from us.
Less than 24 hours ago, President Barack Obama announced Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces. Bin Laden was allegedly the mastermind behind (among many terrorist acts) the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that collapsed the two World Trade Center towers, put a hole in one side of the Pentagon and downed a plane full of passengers in a rural Pennsylvania field. The incidents that day forever changed our world.
Today, in the aftermath of this man's death, many are buzzing about bin Laden's death. This is a man who organized al-Queda, but has been hands off for about two years. Most agree that his death is not the end of our nation's war against terror. Perhaps it is the beginning of the end, but there is certainly still a long journey ahead.
His death has not changed our world, though. Not near the way so many things have changed our world. There were no U.S. casualties in the battle that took bin Laden's life.
Yet, on the dawn of bin Laden's death, my publisher (who is a rarity in that he came up on the editorial side to the publisher position), energetically insisted that all of our weekly newspapers come up with "local" coverage of this. He even went so far as to post breaking news to solicit comments and locate sources.
We've compiled the slew of elected officials' statements. Now we're to seek out local sources - local reaction.
I just do not feel this is our role as hyper-local, weekly, community newspapers. The announcement of bin Laden's death came late Sunday night. Our papers go to press Tuesday night. For me, my newspaper hits the stands late Wednesday afternoon and is delivered via U.S. Postal Service to subscribers on Thursday.
My prediction: by Friday talk of bin Laden's death will have dwindled significantly and by this time next week it will be just a fleeting thought. Within two weeks from now, it won't be talked about at all.
I agree with localized coverage on Sept. 11, 2001. It changed our thinking, it changed our lifestyles. It disrupted that day in everyone's life whether they were on the East Coast or Midwest.
This man's death does not disrupt our lifestyle. Troops are not being immediately withdrawn as a result. Almost nothing changes except a moral victory for the United States.
In some places, celebration erupted in the streets. A crowd gathered outside the White House. Impromptu rallies formed in Lawrence, Kan., and Columbia, Mo., where there are large populations of college students. In some places, people have pulled their American flags out the closet and hung them proudly. Others have put up banners declaring the victory.
But here, in the community my newspaper serves, little seems changed. I cannot find any more American flags than usual. I do not see any special signs or banners. This is the same town that has held half a dozen Tea Party rallies in the past three years. This town's patriotism is not in question. But like many small communities, it was exciting news last night. By noon Monday people had moved on with their lives. By Thursday, I doubt many here will care much anymore.
Had a group staged a rally, had people displayed extra patriotism or had more people been willing to talk about when I tried to do man-on-the-street interviews; I would gladly splash this on the front page.
One of our reporters said that newspapers are "a rough draft of history." True. But the draft is very rough if it's some redneck's uneducated opinion. Meanwhile, here, I have a full list of local issues that weigh readers' minds: pit bull bans, flooding issues and cost increases for curbside recycling among other things.
As a small town, community newspaper, we need to focus on documenting this town's history; not wasting time and space for something nobody seems willing to talk about. We are the rough draft of history for this community, not for the nation.
Sure, there are plenty of other angles to consider. I'm tracking down military service members from our community who will be headed to Afghanistan soon. Ideally I would find the family of someone who was currently over there. But with our deadlines, producing something worthwhile is going to be difficult as I'm already having a hard time getting known sources to call me back.
Whatever this community wants to make a big deal of, I'm willing to print in the newspaper. Anything else just seems forced.
Melody Kramer on community journalism
6 months ago