Community newspapers act as a guide for people that live in small towns. Many of these newspapers are disappearing, and along with them, the ability for people to know their community and the people around them. The need for community news has never been greater.
Newspapers started up in Mason in 1842. According to Michigan Newspaper History, Mason’s first newspaper was the Ingham Telegraph, founded by Mark A. Childs. In the span of about four years, there were five newspapers that were present within the Mason area. A lot for a town that only had a few hundred people in the 1840s.
One of their more notable papers was the Ingham Democrat, which started in 1845 by Wilbur Storey and Cheney. Wilbur Storey later became publisher at the Detroit Free Press and Chicago Times, as well as creating the quote “It is the newspaper’s duty to print news and raise hell.”
Most recently, there was the Ingham County Community Newspaper, a weekly newspaper that covered Ingham County events. In 1999, the paper was bought out by the Lansing State Journal. The last issues of the paper are from 2011, and now coverage is exclusively done by the Lansing State Journal. People from Mason say community news is extremely important.“To me it’s really important. I’m really interested about my community more than Grand Rapids or Detroit.” said Malea Powell, a Mason resident and Michigan State professor.
“I get to know where my work helps and my dollars help. I can read national and global news online, but I can’t read community news online.” said Powell.
Powell grew up in a small town in Indiana with a community newspaper. She said that there was no way to know local news.
“Big news outlets didn’t care about us unless there was a disaster. The newspaper was very important for us to develop as a community.”
Brad Smith, a Mason resident, also keeps up with the community.
“If you can walk down the street and there’s a source of news that’s either reasonably priced or free, I could see the value.” said Smith.
“How are you gonna be current with the daily newspaper with the fact that the daily newspaper is being antiquated by phones?” said Smith. Smith said that if he was not as old as he is, he would not get a paper at all.
“I ask myself, ‘why am I walking down to my mailbox for my newspaper, whereas six days a week I can read my computer for news?’” said Smith. Smith said that there is a novelty to having a cup of coffee and a newspaper on a Sunday.
“It’s very important. It’s important to get information to the people in the area about events, news, changes, stuff like that.” said Dan Blonde, a Mason resident and bartender.
Blonde said that it should be a lot easier to get community news. But if they stick to paper, it will be a lot harder to read it.
“If they use the Internet, it’s by far the easiest way to do it. If I can get the information on my phone, I will.” said Blonde.
Josh Curtis operated Mason Today, a monthly print newspaper as well as a website specifically for news around the Mason area.
“I didn’t have any journalism experience, but I moved out to Mason and there was no information. When there’s no information, you can do whatever the hell you want.”
“I just felt so strongly about it.” said Curtis.
In October 2016, after a few years of writing and reporting, Curtis decided to shut down all of his news services.
“I just planned a date with my wife when I was gonna stop. We were getting over a million views per month from these sites. I just didn’t know what to say when I shut it down.”
“My second kid was born and I didn’t sleep a lot for the last 10 months of the service. I felt like I tried every business move possible and we could never gain enough revenue.” said Curtis.
Curtis said he was hoping that the news service would become something that his family could make a living with. It never got to that point.
“As the state of all local newspapers, everything is going online. Young people don’t read newspapers. I don’t know if they’ll ever figure it out.” said Curtis.
People are concerned about the direction of community news. Dawn Parker, editor of the Gratiot County Herald is one of them. She formerly worked for the Lansing State Journal before being laid off in November.
“Newspaper consolidation makes it exponentially difficult for people to get news about their community.” said Parker. “Newspapers have always served as a check on the city council or the police department.”
Not that every city council is doing something bad, said Parker, but “in the event they are, if there’s someone there that’s checking in on them, everyone’s better off.”
Parker used M.L. Elrick, a reporter for FOX 2 Detroit, as a good example. Elrick won the Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the scandal around Kwame Kilpatrick, former mayor of Detroit.
“I’d like to say that without guys like him, who started that story out on a tip about overtime for Detroit bus drivers, without that Kwame would probably still be mayor and Detroit would be a lot worse off.” said Parker.
Parker said communities should hope that someone should start an online newspaper to cover the community.
“Otherwise, there ain’t much hope. Not a very good time to go into the business.” said Parker.
“Journalism is still important. This is still important. Holding people accountable is important. You can quote me on that.” said Parker.
Gary Miles, the managing editor for The Detroit News, is also worried about the course of community news.
“It’s a great and important issue. I live in a suburban, 10,000 people town and the newspaper that I got was absorbed by another newspaper. It’s happening every day, all around us.” said Miles.
Miles thinks it is a tragedy that community news is slowly going away.
“There’s a lot of ways, potentially, for communities to pick up that gap without needing a multi-thousand or million business. It might not be the same or traditional,” said Miles, “but you’ve got the potential for community bloggers to take it on.”
Miles said journalism classes in high school and college should take this on.
“You can read the police blog, go to council meetings, and do a very adequate job, even if it’s not the professional-grade newspapers that people are used to.”
Miles said that the lack of community newspapers is a void that’s going to be filled. Whether it becomes monetized or not is the bigger question.
“I don’t think the Ingham County Community News could support a website. Even then, we went about it as if they did, and it was about how much news there was and when it got released.
“I think we can all agree that small towns still need to be covered,” said Miles, “but it can’t be covered adequately by people who only drop in when somebody else exposes or stumbles upon a crisis.”
Miles said the demand is higher than ever.
“Look at the news we get about Trump. Minute-by-minute, second-by-second. We don’t need to be president of the United States to have news about the community. If you look at Mason as what you’re dedicated to covering as a reporter or multiple reporters, you can focus on the minutia and spend more time with it. Decide what’s important and what’s not.” said Miles.
Restaurant inspections, neighborhood spats, education achievements, zoning issues, education issues are a few examples Miles said.
“There’s no question that small towns have less news than bigger cities. But you could potentially have as much news as any other place. If you work there, get your haircut there, or live there, any small town has news. It’s just about being in touch for it.” said Miles.
“Anything that I did in four years with the paper was purely out of love for our community. I thought the people deserved information to make decisions about the future.” said Curtis.
“I’m sure a few people weren’t too pleased about me shutting it down. But, it was quite the experience.” said Curtis. “To anyone trying to start up a newspaper; good luck! You’ll need it.”