I have completely loved this job — being editor, that is, of the newspaper you’re holding in your hands.
After five or so years, I am only leaving because I need to have the seats of quite a few pants repaired, and will need to stay at home until it’s done.
But really, this job has helped restore my faith in serendipity: the science of not knowing what to say — and then saying it.
I’m not sure this could have happened anywhere else in the world but Rappahannock County, which I apparently once described as “a semi-mythical place where a cattle farmer and a movie mogul can stand on opposite sides of a fuel pump at Settle’s, share a smile and nod, and move on without a lot of fuss and bother, much less media coverage.”
Except for the relatively few times when something really awful or really wonderful happens in Rappahannock, media coverage is indeed not a big presence — except here, in this newspaper, every week.
In this newspaper, a young man’s Eagle Scout project is as much a headline or photo as is a preschooler group’s garden project, a cattle farmer’s Angus association award, fundraising events of the garden club, the Benevolent Fund or the Food Pantry, your unassuming neighbor’s appointment to be a famous law school’s new president, or another neighbor’s daughter making it to the all-region volleyball team.
I hope this doesn’t sound trite, but what you discover when you spend time at a small-town newspaper is that it is, as everywhere, many things to many people — but not so many that you don’t actually get a phone call or letter or good talking-to from all of them.
I will miss Thursdays here, the day the paper comes out, when phone conversations alternate between “thank you!” and “I’m sorry!”
This is, after all, Rappahannock County — where, as you know, the first thing they ask on the questionnaire you take before they let you move in is: Are you always right? (If you answer “no,” then . . . sorry. You’ll have to live in Madison or Fauquier.)
I started my journalism career at 16 at a small-town newspaper, and ended up at another. In between, I spent almost 30 years at a big-town newspaper in that other Washington, where everybody reads your stories and knows your name — and nobody waves when you pass them on the way home.
Newspapers are not, as you know, entering their golden age — although small-town newspapers suffer less than their big-city counterparts.
Here in Rappahannock County, in discussions that began at the Rappahannock News’ monthly Fourth (Estate) Friday public coffee get-togethers two years ago, the nonprofit Foothills Forum came about and has offered to help the newspaper deal with shrinking advertising revenue and the overhead that comes with printing, mailing and . . . you know, having an actual physical presence in the county seat.
Some have criticized the Foothills group for wanting to help a for-profit business — referring to this newspaper, and mistaking a tax-related classification for reality.
I’ve heard comments like, “We can take care of our own problems, thank you, we don’t need a group of do-gooders to tells us what we care about.”
I’m here to tell you: You should care about your local newspaper. If you don’t already subscribe, pick up the phone and call Jan. If you don’t advertise, because it’s cheaper and easier to do so on Facebook or an email group list that shall not be named, reconsider that decision. Think of your subscription, or your advertising bill, as a tax that pays for necessary services.
I have loved this job — and working with Walter Nicklin, Dennis Brack and Jan Clatterbuck, with Patrice Indig and a whole lot of enthusiastic and passionate contributors who I have not the space to thank by name. Mostly I have loved this job because of the thousands more — our readers — who call, who write, who stop us on the street, and who care.