Weekly newspapers tell of life in communities

By Alvin Benn

They might not have the glamour or power of The New York Times, but weekly newspapers play an important role of their own when it comes to spreading the word.

After all, the Times is unlikely to publish photographs of a beaming boy holding up a rattlesnake he just shot or Ms. Jane’s giant squash or the local junior high school’s cheerleaders.

“Small town newspapers are quite inï¬ï¿½uential in the communities they serve and have a role that is much different from the metropolitan dailies,” according to Auburn University journalism professor Ed Williams.

A lawmaker from a small town who winds up in hot water with the law would rather see the story in the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser or The Birmingham News than his weekly paper because that’s where he was born and raised.

During a speech at the state Department of Archives and History recently, Williams used numerous examples of why community newspapers have been important in rural areas of Alabama and the rest of the country.

He said he looks forward each week to opening a weekly paper to read personal columns, usually written by country correspondents who focus on daily life.

With that, he showed a slide of the Brewton (Ala.) Standard’s front page, followed by a report from a correspondent that a local woman “had her gallbladder removed and is doing good.”

“Not the kind of thing you’d see in The New York Times,” said Williams, who followed that with this from the Clarke County Democrat: “Jeremy Dunning of Coffeeville celebrated his birthday March 5 and his pet goat had twin babies the same day.”

One weekly paper even reported on a vasectomy. Seems two couples motored to Birmingham to celebrate a wedding anniversary and take care of a medical matter.

The next day, Williams said, three of them did some shopping while the second husband “had a vasectomy.” After the successful surgery, the correspondent said the husband joined the other three at Applebee’s and “a good time was had by all.” The biggest laugh from the audience involved a column in the Flomaton TriCity Ledger about a “runaway tire” that crashed into a trailer and knocked a man “off the toilet.”

Seems two tires broke loose from a loaded log truck with one, traveling about 60 mph, plowing through the front door of a trailer and making its way into the bathroom, where the unfortunate man had just sat down, Williams said. "The tire came to a rest on the toilet seat," the correspondent reported.

Williams, who said the man was not seriously hurt, told the crowd that a boy passing by on a bicycle "witnessed the whole thing." Williams said weekly newspapers do more than report about unusual events at times. He said they are important "record keepers," especially about people whose names often appear only twice during their lifetimes – the day they are born and the day they die.

Sallie Owen Gowan, who worked for the award-winning Auburn Plainsman newspaper while a student there in the late '90s, said Williams always was popular with future journalists.

"He didn't try to exert himself on the staff," she said. "If you needed him he was always there, and we could go into his office anytime to discuss a story with him."

© Montgomery Advertiser 2010

Alvin Benn writes about people and places in central and south Alabama. If you have suggestions for a story, contact him at 8753249 or e-mail him at benn8071@bellsouth.net. Special to the Montgomery Advertiser.

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