Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Seriously, Effingham? That's all the news in the county?

The internet, as soon as it went mainstream, became a news junkie's ultimate hit.  Some of us, though, still get a buzz by reading news from a paper product - a newspaper or a magazine, though there are fewer of us each day judging by how many people the newspapers are firing.  So imagine the glee at opening my mailbox to find a newspaper I didn't order accompanied by a letter stating that I now have a free, FREE, four-week trial subscription to that paper.  It happened yesterday, a gratis trial of my hometown semiweekly, the Effingham Herald.  This Herald, though, was more flea circus marching band than trumpet fanfare because, if you believe the paper's thin pages, there is hardly any news happening here.  Really?  No news in a rural but rapidly growing area of Georgia?

Sure, we in The Ham like to think of ourselves as small, but we have more than 52,000 people according to the 2010 Census.  We are one of the fastest growing counties in the state - for a few years, one of the fastest in the whole dang country.   How can there be only ten pages of news content in the Herald and its competitor, the Savannah Morning News's Effingham Now?  Calling it ten pages of news is also generous since many of those pages were consumed by advertising.  There has to be much more happening here, and I believe a lot of news, or even "news", isn't making it into the paper.  (Disclosure: I write all this lovingly since I have contributed to both papers in the past.)

First of all, where are the church service reports?  Growing up in Dade County, Georgia, which at the time was five-times smaller than Effingham, virtually every church had a blurb about the previous Sunday's services - Saturday for the Adventists - in the Dade County Sentinel (or, as my family called it, The Weekly Wipe).  But the greatest church report section of all time was just across the state line at The Sand Mountain Reporter.  "On a cloudless Sunday morning, Brother Cotton Tishaw preached a stirring message of damnation, interrupted only by a call to the outhouse.  The Lord then blessed us with a hamburger fry on the grounds, and Brother Tishaw was highly complimentary of Mable Sue Spurgin's pimento cheese burgers, which he says went perfectly with the salsa he keeps in the breast pocket of his sport coat."  Are there no churches in The Ham willing to even say "Brother Bob preached about the evils of alcohol.....for the 34th consecutive week"?

The front page of the Effingham Herald makes mention of the major cities within the county - Guyton, Rincon, and Springfield.  But where is the community news from Sand Hill?  From Marlow, Ebenezer, Booger Holler (surely there's a Booger Holler somewhere) and a host of other small communities?  One of my high school friends used to write the weekly news from Wildwood, Georgia for our local paper.  "Went to visit Mr. Moss the other day, and am happy to report that his gout is much better, and that his neighbors came together to help clean up the toilet paper left in his trees by the naughty neighborhood teens", even though the naughty teens included my friend and yours truly.  Are there no Mrs. Zipperer's in The Ham whose house got t-p'd while she suffered from 'the gout?'  How about Paw Paw Shearouse's tulips or the beginning of hunting season on Low Ground Road? 

Finally, the big boys of the big city newspapers make a killing by spreading gossip, but anyone who grew up in the South knows that Yankees are amateurs when it comes to spreading rumors and malicious lies to the point to where they become the gospel.  Why doesn't the Effingham Herald take the bold step of adding an anonymous gossip columnist?  Better yet, add two of them - The Reb (as in Effingham High School Rebel) for the northern half of the county and The 'Tang (as in Mustang - where is your mind?) for the southern half.  You don't even have to be specific.  Imagine opening The Reb's column to read, "Is Farmer Bucky's filly harvesting to a different tiller these days?"  That sentence alone could refer to half the county in half a dozen different ways.  Everyone would be talking and, therefore, buying the paper.

I don't fault the folks at the Effingham Herald or Effingham Now.  They probably have only one person writing the stories, taking the pictures, laying everything out, and doing the website.  But the reason newspapers don't make enough money to pay more people is that they didn't follow the prospective news consumer to the areas in which they get their news and because many of them forgot that news is much more than handouts from police departments and government agencies.  News is talking about the folks with the folks.  I haven't given up on small town newspapers.  I just hope they don't give up, first.

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