Writer’s Block: The newspaper times they are a-changin’

It’s a historic week for the youngest member of the ABC Newspapers family.

Tim Hennagir
Tim Hennagir

The Blaine-Spring Lake Park Life news staff is getting ready a big change in the way we deliver community news.

This week’s publication will be the final edition as a paid circulation newspaper.

Effective June 1, the Life will become a free distribution newspaper that will reach 16,500 homes in both cities.

We’re happy to announce the Life and the Blaine Spring Lake Park Sun-Focus are merging into a single-section paper.

Many residents in Blaine and Spring Lake Park receive up to three publications from the two papers’ parent companies, ECM Publishers and Sun Media.

The Sun-Focus, Blaine-Spring Lake Park Life and Anoka County Shopper are all products produced by the same publishing company in Coon Rapids.

Starting next week, we’ll take the best parts from each of the three publications and merge them into one source for local community news and advertisements.

This is an exciting time for our newspaper and the communities we cover. As Life editor, I’m looking forward to this new adventure in community journalism.

The Life newspaper has been publishing in our communities for 50 years.

We’ve severed as an excellent example of “a little newspaper that could” when news content and coverage are compared with much larger circulation rivals.

For example, earlier this year, the Life news staff received first place in general reporting for weeklies up to 1,500 circulation in the Minnesota Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contest.

“Easily mistakable for a big-market paper,” the contest judges wrote.

We appreciated that compliment and took it to heart as initial plans were being formulated to improve our position in a key Twin Cities media market.

While the Life’s circulation will much larger starting next week, our commitment to community journalism will experience a growth spurt as well.

As several journalism scholars define it, community journalism is journalism that serves distinct communities, typically small towns, suburbs or urban neighborhoods, but also communities of identity.

But in practice, community journalism goes back much, much farther — in fact, an argument could be made that community journalism is as old as journalism itself.

I strongly believe the two words are inseparable and wedded at the media hip.

“Community newspaper” is a term used by publishers, advertisers and readers to describe a range of publications that share a common service mission to their local community and commerce.

By measure of its best definition, community journalism is intimate, caring, and personal. The craft reflects a particular community and tells stories while embracing a leadership role.

Please remember no matter how ambitious they may be, most journalists don’t get their start at the New York Times.

They get their first jobs at local community newspapers that require a different style of reporting than the detached, approach expected at larger publications.

The best community papers are distinguished by demonstrable levels of local engagement. We need more interaction from Life readers we as we move forward to become that type of publication.

We want to hear what’s making news in your neighborhood. Our goal? Making local media valuable to the people.

Community journalism is a conversation, a dialogue, a two-way exchange.

It is the media talking to the people; most importantly, it is the people talking back to the media in a constructive way.

Community journalists aren’t afraid to take on big issues, but they do it knowing they will have to stand behind the words they write.

Additionaly, weekly newspapers need to do a better job of becoming the “community coffee shop.”

In order to do that, newspapers need to reflect the community they serve.

In a growing community such as as Blaine, that’s a difficult but welcome challenge for a communications company to address, since the city is being transformed by changing demographics.

Our print product is growing, but so is our presence within the digital town square. We continue to make refinements to a website that engages, entertains and educates those who read news online.

The headline above this column comes courtesy of songwriter Bob Dylan and the title track of his his 1964 album, “The Times They Are a-Changin.”

Dylan recalled writing that song as a deliberate attempt to create an anthem of change for a particular moment.

Starting next week, that’s what we at ABC Newspapers hope to accomplish with the new Blaine-Spring Lake Park Life.

Send us your feature stories and other ideas for coverage. Together, let’s figure out new ways of communicating together.

Tim Hennagir can be reached at tim.hennagir@ecm-inc.com


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