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Rob Curley: Thanksgiving, serendipity and why today’s front page looks like it’s from 1910

When subscribers to The Spokesman-Review woke up on Thanksgiving Day in 1910, readers were proudly told they were opening “The Farmer’s Family Newspaper.”

The scene at the top of our front page painted the picture of a cornucopia. Images of crops, livestock and good folk working the land showed a beautiful Inland Northwest, long before our area identified itself that way.

There was literally a cornucopia, too – just to make sure the point was clear. Under it all was the newspaper’s key mission: “For Good Farming, Attractive Country Homes And Happier Country People.”

I love history. It’s one of the reasons I’ve wanted to be a newspaper editor since the third grade. Documenting a community’s living history is all I’ve ever wanted to do.

And I really love the history of newspapers. Since arriving in Spokane in August, I’ve tried to soak up as much of The Spokesman-Review’s rich 133-year history as possible. That’s how the front page of today’s paper came about.

Sometimes you wander on to something so wonderful that you know it has to be shared. After seeing one of our front pages from 1910, I knew we had to find a way to give it to our readers.

Our newsroom’s talented designers worked to re-create the image that adorned that 106-year-old page. It was stunning. It also told us that for one day, maybe we should just turn back the clock.

Baseball teams do it all the time, wearing the uniforms from a long-gone era – evoking emotions we can’t wait to savor again. Why not a newspaper?

So, the planning began. The biggest newspaper day of the year – a paper so big that it really should come with a warning to keep small domesticated pets inside during delivery hours – was going to go old-school. It was going to acknowledge that today isn’t like any of the others.

It’s not just that Thanksgiving is different, it’s essential. It warms the soul in a way we all could use right now.

We gather around a table with the people we love. We share great food. We watch bad football. We lay on the couch and marvel at the sheer volume of calories we’ve ingested.

That groggy pride feels wonderful on so many levels.

But we’re mostly thankful. Thankful for our families. Thankful for our friends. Thankful the election is over. And thankful there really is a 55-inch television on sale for $350.

That’s why today’s front page is filled with gratitude.

Unusual? Maybe.

If telling the story of our community is part of an editor’s job description, how can you tell the story of today without explaining all that we’re thankful for? Which is why we asked our readers to tell us exactly that.

My mentor in journalism preached to me that the most important thing a newspaper could do is surprise its subscribers.

“You have to give your readers a gift every dang day,” Bill Snead told me. (Actually, he said it a little more colorfully than that, but this is a family paper.)

Bill was a legend to me. We grew up in the same area. He had worked for the biggest newspapers in the world and held the highest jobs. He could work anywhere he wanted. But at the end of an amazing career, what he really wanted was to be a small-town newspaper editor, “where a newspaper still meant something” to its community.

When Bill talked, I didn’t just listen, I absorbed every word.

“Our readers know what we do,” he told me. “They know we write about our schools, our local city council, our local teams, the new business that opens downtown and whoever did something dumb enough to get the cops’ attention.

“But when you talk to them, and you should talk to your readers every day, you find out their favorite thing in the newspaper is almost always the thing they never expected. Delight them. Make them feel something. Most important, surprise them.”

It was a lesson about the power of serendipity – a lesson I never forgot.

So, today’s newspaper is about surprise. And delight.

In a world filled with Facebook, 24-hour cable news networks and more yelling than any of us can possibly want, maybe what we need to grab our attention is a simple front page that feels like it’s from 1910.

And in doing that, we made sure that cornucopia is back at the top of today’s Spokesman-Review. Because it’s still true today – we are blessed to live in an area overflowing with beautiful crops, lovely views and people with warm hearts.

Please have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.

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.