These stories we tell are your stories

Joe Southern

Faith, Family & Fun

Sometimes I feel like I’m reinventing the wheel. Sometimes I feel like the hamster running endless circles inside it. Other times I feel like I’m cruisin’ down the highway on the two wheels of a Harley (although I’ve never actually ridden a Harley, so I don’t know what that experience is like).

Coming into this job at the Wharton Journal-Spectator and East Bernard Express is in many ways as comfortable as an old shirt, sweatpants, and a favorite chair. I’ve been doing community journalism for over three decades and this feels right at home – mostly.

Being new to any community means there is a lot to learn to come up to speed. There is history to learn, people to meet, and the nuances of relationships to navigate. The latter can be tricky, especially when there were bridges burned by your predecessor.

Trust is a very big thing with me, and when people don’t trust me, or more specifically the paper I work for, my job becomes that much harder. I’m a relationship builder. I’ll wave the community flag, cheer the local teams, and sing the praises of local accomplishments of people, businesses, and other entities around town, especially nonprofit organizations and churches.

This doesn’t mean I ignore the “bad” news – crime, corruption, etc. – it means I prefer to write the good, uplifting news that people want and need to hear.

That hamster-in-a-wheel feeling I get comes from putting out three newspapers a week (two in Wharton and one in East Bernard). I’m the only full-time person in the newsroom for both papers. I share writers with El Campo and I have a few stringers, but it’s up to me to cover most of the news and to lay out the pages for three papers each week.

Doing three papers is a very new experience for me. So far, I’ve been up to the challenge, but I’m seeing more and more things start to fall through the cracks. There’s just too much going on for one person to handle. That’s where I need your help. I am very dependent upon people submitting news items to me.

I need churches and nonprofit organizations to email me their news and photos. The same goes for schools, first responders, and anyone else wanting the public to know about their events, programs, honors, etc. (Please send text in a form that can be copied and pasted.)

You see, although the newspapers have owners, they really belong to the people and the communities they represent. Owners come and go, but communities and their papers do not. It’s a relationship forged over many decades, and in some cases, centuries.

Newspapers pride themselves on being the first draft of history. In some cases, we’re the only draft. We can’t tell your stories if we don’t know about them. And me being one person, I can’t get to all of them. But you can come to us and we can share your news.

People enjoy seeing their picture in the paper and reading their name in print. A former publisher of mine used to joke that he could sell more papers each week if he just reprinted the phone book (for those of us old enough to remember phone books).

Wharton and East Bernard are remote enough that no other media outlet is going to cover the goings on. Sure, there are groups on social media sites that will share news and information, but how much of it can you trust? You’re not going to get any fake news here. We may make mistakes now and then, but we will always strive for fair, honest, and balanced news reporting that you can trust.

Not only do we want to publish all the local news that we can, I also want this to be a relationship. I want to hear your opinions in letters to the editor. I want you to feel like you have a stake in our publication, because you do. We can’t exist without readers and advertisers.

This is your community and your newspaper. We can do this thing together. I don’t have to be the hamster. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I just need time to get some rubber on the road and I want you to come along for the ride.

Please feel free to share your news with me at news@journal-spectator.com. I’m anxious to meet you and see where this relationship can take us.

(Joe Southern is the managing editor of the Wharton Journal-Spectator and East Bernard Express and can be reached at news@journal-spectator.com.)

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