One of my favorite things in the world is to watch someone read a newspaper.
I first realized how much I adored this as the editor of my high school paper, back in Osage City, Kansas. By the time I ended up at the Washington Post, I was practically giddy when a morning trip on the Metro was ahead of me. The people-watching on a D.C. subway train is fantastic. And a whole bunch of those people read the Post.
Seeing someone holding something you’ve created, completely overlooking that story you’ve poured your heart over, while heading straight to the crossword puzzle or the word jumble will humble a journalist quickly.
But watching folks read a newspaper also teaches you a valuable lesson in what people really care about.
You learn things they never teach you in journalism school. You learn that a photo filled with delight and a moment of serendipity is just as essential to a great newspaper as having the most important local and national stories.
As my career became focused on newspapers’ move to the web, I literally could see every story being read. At the very second it was being read.
My biggest surprise was that our online readers were doing almost the exact same things I saw them do at the coffee shop when they were holding our actual paper, folded to the perfect size, with one hand, while taking a sip of their triple-shot, half-sweet, nonfat, caramel macchiato. With sprinkles.
That’s been one of my favorite parts of living in Spokane.
When I work out in the morning, the gym is filled with people reading The Spokesman-Review while on the treadmill or stationary bike. Eating lunch downtown offers the same great observations, only with a lot less sweating.
Doing this for so long, you begin to understand the roles a newspaper plays in so many people’s lives. And one of the biggest for me is celebrating the moments that unite us as a community and show us who we really are.
Newspapers love to fill their front pages with the biggest news stories of the day. And that news rarely is good. That’s why when you look at so many front pages, you nod your head to the left and to the right, because you can’t believe how horrible humanity is.
There’s a popular website that newspaper journalists love to visit that shows the front pages of most newspapers across the country and world. One of the things that strikes you about looking at them is how many newspapers choose the exact same stories for their front page every day.
After watching so many people read newspapers, I knew this was wrong.
This newspaper has to look like us. The Spokesman-Review has to be like holding up a mirror to our community. Yes, we see the imperfections, but we also see the beauty. And, yes, all of those big stories need to be in our paper, as well, which is why we’re running more national and international news than we have in years.
Our front page needs to feel like the Inland Northwest, our people, our values, what we’re passionate about and what we represent.
That brings me to today’s paper.
The goodness I see every day in our community is staggering. Just look at the Christmas Fund.
As a former editor at this newspaper who now works in D.C. pointed out to me a few weeks ago, this is a region with half a million population that raises half a million dollars through a newspaper’s holiday fund. No place else could match a dollar per capita like that.
The problem is that goodness isn’t a traditional news value. Or at the very least, it’s not typically considered front-page news. And it really should be.
For the next 10 days, The Spokesman-Review will celebrate 10 people who have made a difference in our community over the past year. They may not wear a cape, but trust me, they are real heroes.
And in most cities, they’re exactly the type of selfless people who never end up on the front page of a newspaper.
Only today they are. And you’re going to see them there a whole lot more.
Rob Curley became the editor of The Spokesman-Review in September. He has previously held leadership positions at The Orange County Register, Las Vegas Sun, Washington Post and Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World.
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