People often think that since I moved to a town of 351 people, I’ve kind of dropped out of modern civilization. I’m writing this post from my home, where I have DSL, courtesy of our excellent local phone company, TCT West, and the library has a T1 line and four public access computers, so that’s not quite true. In some ways, actually, I feel like the opposite is true.
Take local news, for example. When I lived in suburban Chicago, there was one twice weekly newspaper that covered sixteen suburbs with a total population of over 126,000 people and was part of a chain that provided similar newspapers for about sixty of Chicago’s suburbs. Good luck getting any news about your library’s summer reading program reported.
Here in Meeteetse, we get five newspapers at the library. We have the Billings Gazette and the Casper Star-Tribune for regional and state news. But we also get local newspapers from around our region. Cody, population 8835, has a twice weekly paper, the Cody Enterprise. Powell, population 5373, has the twice weekly Powell Tribune. And Worland, population 5250, puts out the Northern Wyoming Daily News five days a week (it is too bad they no longer call it the Worland Grit, but you can’t have everything). All these papers rely to some extent on wire stories, but they all also have local staff who attend city council meetings and county commissioners’ meetings, who take pictures at high school ball games, and who write impassioned editorials about the delisting of wolves and grizzlies from the Endangered Species list; the Cap Tax II initiative that, if passed, will fund a new library in Cody, a new pool in Powell, and a refurbished pool here in Meeteetse; and the state legislature’s recent failure to pass a bill banning open containers in cars (currently you can drink all you want in a vehicle as long as you’re not the driver). And just this past week, the Cody Enterprise reported that the state of Wyoming will soon have its first tourism podcast, developed and produced right here in Park County.
When I hear people say that newspapers are dead, I always wonder where they live. It’s true that the media conglomeration that has bled the fm dial of local djs and diverse music has also gobbled up local newspapers, so that in many parts of the country, your “local news” is a canned Gannett product with about as much news value as the back of a cereal box. That’s been true of most of the places I lived (with the exception of Indianapolis, where the newspapers were locally owned, but owned by Dan Quayle’s family, which sometimes made them of dubious news value when we lived there, from 1988-1990).
Does your library have microfilm of old newspapers? If so, dip into it sometime. You might be surprised at what you find. Earlier this week I took several boxes of microfilm of the Cody Enterprise down to our local museum, since sadly, we don’t have a microfilm reader at the library. Even more sadly, the museum doesn’t have one either, so now we’re both trying to track one down. In the meantime, though, I’ll relish all the current local news that we’re lucky enough to have here on the edge of the wilderness.