Guest column: Celebrate newspapers and their efforts to record local history

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, March 14, 2023

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Guest column by Jim Pumarlo

Sandy Robinson and Ben Carlson were part of news reports in Minnesota’s newspapers. Neither one was probably aware of the attention created by the event.

Jim Pumarlo

The names are fictitious, but the news — birth announcements — is regularly recorded in community newspapers. We expect to see more of Sandy and Ben in the coming years.

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Likewise, we hope the local newspapers become a part of their daily routines.

Newspapers pride themselves as recorders of local history. I encourage all Minnesotans to join in celebrating their local newspapers during Sunshine Week, March 12-18. At its foundation, the week underscores the importance of the free flow of information for an open, effective and accountable government. The press invests immense resources to ensure the public has a close-up view.

Strike up a conversation about press rights, and many individuals likely conjure editors and reporters demanding access to top-secret data from government officials. No doubt, that occurs more often than most people would like to believe.

Shedding light on information, however, is much broader than probing into government workings. Newspapers regularly strive to provide stories that people should read and like to read.

Readers may view many reports as routine, but chronicling the lives of Sandy and Ben often represents years-long initiatives to gain access to information. The items often find a spot on refrigerators or a permanent place in family scrapbooks.

The news may range from publishing vital statistics to capturing photos of winning scores to detailing presentations before a school board or city council. The opportunity for anyone to collect a variety of data or enjoy ringside seats to many events is not happenstance. The press has a storied history of working to shed light on all aspects of everyday life.

Sandy and Ben’s births will remain part of local history. Newspapers take pride in helping families spread news of special events in their lives.

As noted, we expect to be seeing a lot more of Sandy and Ben. The two are certain to be sharing many special moments as they grow up, and among them will be a neighborhood party or two. It’s an opportunity for families to share a photo on many a newspaper’s neighborhood section, website photo gallery, Facebook page and other social media avenues.

I predict Sandy and Ben will make names for themselves in a variety of youth clubs and leagues — maybe a pinewood derby or a YMCA sports championship. The achievements will be recognized.

Accomplishments will likely continue through high school extracurricular activities. They will understand the importance of academics and wind up on the honor roll, too. The benchmarks will be shared with their names in the newspaper. School days will pass quickly, and they will be recognized with photos in graduation editions.

That covers the first 18 years of their lives. The relationship with their hometown papers is likely to continue including announcements of where they decide to continue their education and accompanying scholarships. It’s a good bet more stories will be generated about their experiences and subsequent careers.

I expect Sandy and Ben may someday decide to start their own families. Where their newspapers once proclaimed the birth announcements, the news pages will announce engagements and acknowledge weddings. The photos will be wonderful additions to family scrapbooks. An active citizenry is the lifeblood of so many communities. More than likely, Sandy and Ben will not sit idly. They will want to return some favors to the communities that gave so much to them.

Their names will be in the news some more — an officer in a civic organization, a youth leader at church, a volunteer at school. They might even start their own businesses, which will be recognized as well.

Then the families, along with older brothers and sisters, will be planning a special anniversary celebration for their parents. Once again, the event will make the paper.

Individuals are the essence of community newspapers. After all, people make the news. Today’s media landscape is more fractured than ever, underscoring the value of community newspapers in providing a living history of our hometowns. Many stories are easily gathered; others are more challenging. They all represent the expense of time and resources by newspaper staffs.

During Sunshine Week, we pay tribute to the millions of readers who invite newspapers into their homes each day. I speak firsthand from many years sitting behind the editor’s desk. We enjoy the relationships we’ve made, and we hope our readers do, too.

Jim Pumarlo is a member of the Minnesota Newspaper Association. He is a former editor of the Red Wing Republican Eagle and former board member of the Minnesota News Media Institute. He can be reached at