From The Publisher: Newspapers must listen to their readers

Publishing a newspaper is the best way I can think of to make a living.

After a lifetime of newspapering, I still relish the work; it remains urgent, useful and important. Never for a single day have I regretted making journalism my profession.

It’s a great privilege to serve as publisher of the Salisbury Independent and our company’s other five weekly newspapers on Delmarva. The part of my job I cherish the most is the connection it allows me to forge with so many ordinary people who make extraordinary contributions to their communities.

Nurturing these relationships with the readers of the Salisbury Independent is sure to prove especially rewarding. My wife and I lived for a decade in the heart of Newtown. We raised three of our four children in Salisbury. Our boys played Tom Brown baseball and basketball, they swam at the YMCA, and we attended church just down the street from where we lived. In 2003, we moved to our current home in Seaford, but even now after 11 years, we still consider Salisbury home. It’s where we shop, and we still go there to church.

Of course, I remember the defunct Salisbury News & Advertiser; I had the rather dubious and unpleasant distinction 13 years ago of recommending our company close that venerable weekly. It was a tough call – and perhaps the only day when I actually regretted being in the newspaper business. From that decision, though, emerged a goal shared by many in our company: At the appropriate time, we would launch a new weekly newspaper dedicated to Salisbury, its people, their institutions and achievements.

The Salisbury Independent represents the fruition of this objective. This newspaper and the city it serves matter to all of us involved in this fledgling enterprise. We believe the time is right and that Salisbury deserves a fresh, new voice.

My experience has taught me a newspaper owes its vitality to the readers and to the community that it covers. As publisher, it is great fun each week to see a new issue of the paper, but the reactions of readers are always genuinely more thrilling. And so far, the response from every quarter of the city has been nothing but overwhelmingly positive.

We have received dozens of e-mails and messages, most no more than a line or two. We are sincerely grateful for every single one. We are glad that so many are reading the Independent. For a community newspaper, the rule of thumb is the smallest items usually garner the most heartfelt response. It should be no surprise this has already proven true in your reaction to the Independent.

But even seasoned, sensitive editors are frequently surprised at what strikes a chord in the community. We shouldn’t wonder at this or at the fact that editors and publishers are sometimes out of synch with their communities. That’s because editors (and publishers in particular) don’t always listen to the conversation taking place among their readers.

We professionals tend to get caught up in what we identify as news. But after all, what is news really, if not the topic that people around you are talking about and discussing? These two things – what editors believe is news and what readers say is news – are not always the same.

Newspapers that serve communities best are the ones that listen most intently to this ever-changing conversation, then report on it, take time to interpret it and provide a forum where readers can engage one another in even more meaningful debate.

This is the most important part of our mission at the Salisbury Independent. But unless you help us, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for our small weekly staff to tap meaningfully into this conversation. We cannot be everywhere to cover everything.

So we would ask that you help us by sharing your news. We want you to send us your calendar items, the dates of your civic club meetings, plans for community projects, Little League scores, business news, special awards, professional milestones and celebrations. We want your photos, especially the ones that depict your volunteer efforts, where you and your neighbors are doing something to better the community.

We would also appreciate your views, guest commentaries and letters to the editor. The opinion pages in the Salisbury Independent belong to you, our readers, and these pages are intended to provide a forum for community discussion. Our newspapers long ago stopped publishing staff-written editorials. We decided we were not smart enough to set the agenda for the communities we cover.

This is different from many other newspapers. The one thing we do know is that people care about their community, but they often feel powerless to influence the flow of events. Sometimes, newspapers are part of this problem as evidenced by their elitist and stuffy opinion pages. At the Independent, we will never use our opinion pages to advance our own platform. Doing so could contradict the public’s trust. We will seek to facilitate community discussion instead of dominating or stifling it.

Lastly, you can help us by staying in touch, even if you don’t have news to share or an opinion you want to publicize – just let us know what you’d like to see and read in the Independent. This is your newspaper, not ours; we are merely stewards. And though we can’t always promise we will deliver, you can count on us to give you our best effort.

As your community newspaper, we are committed to making Salisbury a better place. You can help support our mission by making a voluntary contribution to the newspaper.
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