After college, back in the previous century, I went to graduate school because I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I decided to get a master’s degree in English, since I speak it fluently (for a Texan), like to write and could easily see myself as a pipe-smoking professor in a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows.
Turns out, you have to know what a metaphor is.
As best I could tell from a long, encrypted note a professor wrote on my 30-page paper about “Moby Dick,” I don’t.
It’s just as well. Tweed jackets are too hot for Texas, and I don’t smoke.
So I dropped out and became a sports writer. I’m pretty sure my first Little League story touched more lives than all the papers I would have ever written about “Moby Dick.” Literature’s loss was, I hope, Little League’s gain.
But I have always thought that if I ever went back to graduate school, it would be for a master’s in journalism. If I did, I’d like to study the impact of newspapers on their communities.
I’m sure there are some great communities out there that do not have great newspapers, but in my experience (looking through ink-tinted glasses) most great communities have great newspapers. It’s no guarantee, of course – you still need strong leadership, a viable economy, a little growth, a certain attitude. But without a newspaper that’s willing to get involved, a community has an awful lot to overcome on its way to greatness.
The newspaper is the straw that stirs the drink, a catalyst to make good things happen.
A great community newspaper not only leads, it calls on leaders to step up and do the right thing, and it calls out those who are in it for the wrong reasons. It helps businesses get their message out, through affordable advertising, and it helps community service organizations get the word out about the good stuff they’re doing.
It provides an official record, serves as a witness and watchdog over entities that spend your money. It holds them accountable, gets appreciated by those who are honest and despised by those who are not. It’s a valuable tool for leaders whose hearts are in the right place, and a pain in the nether regions for those who have some other agenda.
A great community newspaper can stick its tongue in cheek now and then and make you laugh. It not only speaks, it gives you a voice, to point out what’s not obvious, cry for help or rally citizens to action.
And when your heart is broken, it finds the nobility in your sorrow, shows it to the world and weeps with you. It records your history as you make it and enriches all who take the time to read.
Many people in my business have long looked upon the Wise County Messenger as one of the great community newspapers not only in Texas, but in the entire country.
I’ve known the newspaper longer than I’ve known the community, but the more I learn about Decatur and Wise County, the more I understand the Messenger’s role over the years in making this such a great place to live, work and raise a family. It’s hard to overestimate its impact in working alongside your leaders to create so much value for the people who call Wise County home.
I’ve been in management in three newspapers in my life: one, I started from scratch. The next one was up and running but had a lot of room for improvement. At this one, the challenge is not to build from nothing, but to take something great, and make it better.
I’m not here to polish the brass and dust the chandeliers. I’m here to look at Wise County with fresh eyes, to encourage the good stuff and help steer us away from everything that doesn’t fulfill our mission of making the communities we serve better places.
I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere. If I could find it, I probably wouldn’t be here – and here is exactly where I want to be.