As I was plowing through the huge pile of lost letters, which I described last week, I found one particularly interesting.
Reader Marc Levin had submitted a letter back in December noting that the big Ohio State-USC football game hadn’t been in the newspaper. Reading his opening sentence, I expected a complaint about our inadequate attention to college football. But instead, Marc said something unexpected.
“It probably ended too late to make the paper but also, that is not the purpose of the Register,” he wrote.
He went on to talk about how the mission of the Register was to cover local news – the other stuff, the national news and politics, is secondary.
“What do I think their mission is? To cover local politics, events, and sports,” he wrote. “These are things you will never read about in the Chronicle, NY Times, Post or USA Today. This is the main communication instrument of our community.”
I wrote back to thank him, but I pointed out that the football game reference was by now almost four months out of date, so it would make little sense to run the letter now, however perceptive (and flattering) it might be.
Without any prompting from me, Marc rewrote the letter, updating it so it could run. I was able to get it in this past Wednesday.
“And all things considered,” he said. “I think for a community our size they are doing a bang-up job.”
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It means a lot to have readers understand and appreciate what we do, and why.
Yes, we do carry national and international news and sports, and we do know readers enjoy them (you should have heard the uproar a few years ago when we experimented with dropping the Nation & World page. Not a good day at the editor’s desk).
And yes, there are bigger papers out there, with the staff and resources to do stories we can only dream of.
But what we do is what no other paper does – we tell your story. We don’t just parachute in when disaster strikes, as it does from time to time in Napa County. We’re here every day, telling stories when there is no disaster and the national and regional media have lost interest: what happened in the Big Game between Napa and Vintage last night? What were the sirens on my street? What businesses are opening or closing or changing? What are our elected officials up to?
Marc had a further observation that was right on target.
“I don’t know how much the staff at the Register gets paid but I have to believe they are doing this much more for the love of the job and sense of duty than for the money,” he wrote.
He’s right about that. Anybody who goes into journalism for the wealth and glamor is in for a disappointment. The reward for journalism is getting to do interesting things, meet interesting people, tell fascinating stories, and make our communities just a little bit better.
It’s hard and sometimes thankless (except, of course, when a generous reader like Marc writes to thank us), but it is fun and deeply rewarding. Everyone on my tight little team really does do this for love more than money.
At the risk of having Marc write most of my column for me this week, let me finish with the key part of his lovely testimonial to local journalism: “The local newspaper is the glue that binds the town and we have a civic duty to make sure it survives by subscribing. You only need to think what it would be like to live in Napa without this resource.”
Thanks, Marc, and thanks to all of you who have supported us all these years. You’re the reason we do this.
You can reach Sean Scully at 256-2246 or firstname.lastname@example.org.