Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hometown Media

It has not been a great few days for the print media in my home town and its environs.My dad told me the other day that the weekly paper that covers local news, the Argus Champion, is closing its doors. It is hard to explain what the Argus means in a town like Newport. There is a daily newspaper, the Eagle Times, based in the (larger) town next door, Claremont. But the weekly newspaper always held the soul of newport. Or it did until a few years ago, when the coverage started leaning toward some of the more affluent nearby towns. For many in Newport, this is the real reason why the Argus failed.

In high school the Argus was especially good at covering local sports. Each week the paper chose an athlete of the week, and a local grocer sponsored the award by giving the winner two free steaks. I must have had two dozen steaks as a result of this partnership, the sort of thing that characterizes, indeed defines, small towns. The Eagle Times does a fine job of covering high school sports, but its coverage area is such that it encompasses well more than a dozen small communities and their high schools. The Argus was for our town and our teams, with a strong emphasis on Newport Tiger sports. I so rarely get home, and must admit that I do not go online to look at the Argus at all often. But like every other institution in my hometown, just knowing it was there has always been comforting.

On a lighter note, yet another basically local paper, the Valley News, which was based a few towns away and thus rarely figured in our day-to-day lives (unless we accomplished something against one of the Upper Valley teams in sports) has made news lately for a rather embarrassing snafu. On July 21, the newspaper misspelled its own name. On the front page:
The paper later sheepishly apologized:

[Hat tip to Patrick Appel, one of the writers still subbing in for Andrew Sullivan, for the Valley News gaffe.]


Rich said...

This really sucked to hear, thanks for the post.

dcat said...

Was Vern Violet still giving out steaks during your era?
Yeah, it's a bummer. The Eagle is supposedly going to produce a weekly hometown edition, but who knows how that will go. The guy who owns the Eagle owns the Argus, so it's hard not to be cynical about this transition.


Slicer said...

Good 'ol Vern was indeed still giving out the steaks during my era, but my era also saw the big acquisition of Butson's purchasing Violette's. Buying groceries in the Sunshine Town was never the same.

I share your sentiments about the Argus. I always felt it was "our" paper.

Heather and Matthew said...

I think the Eagle actually covers more than 30 communities in Vermont and N.H., or it did when I worked there way back when, so there really is never more than bits on odd accidents, jury trials, or town meetings in each community. There certainly is little space in the way of meaningful features of people, happenings of interest.

And in light of the recent downturn in the economy, which was always depressing in Sullivan County anyway, there will be less advertising and consequently less pages in those afternoon editions devoted to our home town. Bye bye Argus, it was nice to have known ya.

On a personal note: I sucked at sports and never got any of those fatty steaks, but I did get knocked down by Vern Violet during the Winter Carnival broom hockey tournament, and I once got mentioned in the Argus for a clipping penalty.

dcat said...

Matt --
Thanks for weighing in. I actually had forgotten that during the winter of discontent you wrote for the Eagle. I believe I have one byline in the Argus from the early/mid 90s.
Wen people talk about the potential death of the American newspaper I think it is overstated and overwrought, but many clearly will not make it. I wonder about the Eagle -- on the one hand, it deals with all of the struggles of a small town, or multi-small-town newspaper. on the other, its online coverage is not great, and people still get the Eagle for local news and then watch the nightly network news in much larger percentages than most places I've lived, or at least any cities.
But as you indicate, what will suffer will be the coverage of any particular town at the expense of covering the entire region, which is a pretty good size swath of land and a lot of towns, given the relative density of towns (not populations, but the actual towns themselves) compared, say, to west Texas or even Western Carolina.