Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Make or Break Newspapers

Our regional ED group, composed of nine counties, holds their annual meeting every year in May, honoring a handful of outstanding groups and individuals who are making a difference and helping to positively transform their communities and the region. These awards, Business Ethics and Social Involvement (BESI), were given out this year to Jim Ryan, an outstanding volunteer in Marshall, IL; John Inyart, local business owner and mayor of Charleston, IL; and the Journal Gazette—Times Courier, the local newspaper in Mattoon and Charleston, IL.

Scott Lensink, President of Lake Land College, who nominated the Journal Gazette, said in his remarks, “The Journal Gazette and especially its publisher Carl Walworth have really helped to bring Mattoon and Charleston closer together.”

Having observed Mattoon and Charleston from 30 miles away over the past several decades, I couldn’t agree with Scott more. One of the problems that I’ve observed of sister cities like Mattoon and Charleston is that they spend way too much time fighting each other rather than trying to figure out how best to work together. The local newspaper, especially under the leadership of Carl Walworth has tirelessly championed a togetherness approach through such efforts as a quarterly leader’s breakfast for the entire county, a program to recognize young leadership in the county, a program to recognize volunteers and several other innovative programs.

Carl was a farm boy from rural Jasper County, IL who became a journalist and wasn’t necessarily the logical choice when the longtime publisher retired. However, under his leadership I’ve watched in awe as he has taken a very positive approach to reporting news and promoting the region.

The example of the transformation of the Journal Gazette led by Carl is a lesson that other local newspapers would do well to study if they hope to positively impact their region. Virtually anyone who is looking to move to a town (business, doctor, professional, etc.) is going to subscribe to the newspaper prior to making the decision to move. If the front page of the newspaper is filled with killings, muggings, etc. what do you think that their impression of the community is going to be? And, while those types of stories have to be reported, they don’t necessarily have to be on the front page like many newspapers do (If it bleeds…it leads!) but rather can be relegated to page four or six.

Carl understands the importance of positively impacting a community and was justly recognized at the ECIDC annual meeting.

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