Practicing hometown journalism

Many people who work in “the media” don’t understand the real boots on the ground are worn by the folks who put out weekly newspapers in small towns throughout the country.

The weeklies, often thought of by West Virginians as the “county papers,” have a relationship with those they serve like nothing we at bigger papers or in media such as radio, television and the Internet can match.

I’ve been there, done that, so I know about weeklies.

I know how critical they are to communities. And I know how very, very important are those who dedicate their lives to weekly newspapers.

West Virginians lost one of the best last week.

James Warren Buzzerd – “Buzz” to fellow ink-stained wretches who knew him – passed away at the age of 83. He had been involved in journalism at his family’s paper, The Morgan Messenger in Berkeley Springs, for more than half a century.

Every link in the journalism chain is important, of course. We at daily newspapers try to keep readers informed of local, state, national and international news. Our editorials aim to provide leadership on various issues.

But we can never, ever accomplish what the weeklies do.

We don’t have the space to cover all the community news they report, week in and week out. That simply isn’t our mission.

It is the foundation of a small weekly paper, however.

And because many weeklies – fewer now than in the past – are run by people who grew up in the communities they cover, there is a unique relationship between them and their readers.

Few daily newspaper editors have ever had the gut-wrenching experience of telling an ex-high school classmate that no, that DUI report won’t be kept out of the paper. Few have had to criticize public officials who have been friends for decades.

It happens at the weeklies – all the time.

No one I’ve every known ever grew rich owning a weekly newspaper. There are far better, easier ways to make money.

And the work is hard. I know more than a few weekly newspaper editors who sometimes have their “40 hours” in by Wednesday morning. Really.

In exchange for the sacrifice, though, they get the deep satisfaction of having served their communities better, in many ways, than anyone else they know.

Buzzerd had that satisfaction, because he earned it.

Those of us in newspapering who knew him and understand what he did will miss him deeply.

So will his community.

Mike Myer is the executive editor at the Wheeling Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register. Myer can be reached at mmyer@theintelligencer.net.