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A community newspaper will be missed

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 30 May 2014 at 12:00 am

Editorial

MEDINA – It was nearly 18 years ago when I debuted as a professional journalist. My first story appeared in The Journal-Register in Medina. It was the first Tuesday in July back in 1996. I covered an Albion Board of Education meeting from the previous night.

It felt good to be in print, right on the front page of the community newspaper. Not long after the paper was printed and delivered, JR editor Owen Toale got a call from a School Board member, saying he needed “to do something about his reporter.” The Board member didn’t like how a few disagreements among board members were highlighted, and other less contentious news was glossed over.

That was my introduction to the business. Owen had my back and stood up for his staff. Back then in mid-1996, there were five news reporters at the JR.

Today is the final edition for The Journal after 111 years of chronicling life in Orleans County. It’s a sad day for those of us in the news business and for former JR staffers. (Two of the JR reporters I worked with went on to become lawyers. Another became a government planner and another a college professor.)

I actually started my journalism career with the Albion Advertiser, which was a weekly newspaper that shared the same owner and some of the same staff as the Journal. (That paper ceased publication a year ago.) The Journal used some of my stories from the Advertiser.

I had to go to The Journal offices on Mondays to drop off my film from a week’s worth of photos. I was back the next day to lay out the paper using X-Acto knives, wax on the back on paper and pica rulers. It was tedious, with a lot of hunching over. When I was done with the Tuesday morning ordeal I liked to treat myself to a doughnut at Corky’s Bakery.

Besides the five news reporters, the JR back then also had Mike Wertman. I marveled at his work ethic, and his amazing productivity in covering local sports. Mike also wrote the editorials and determined how the news pages would be designed with the placement of the stories.

Many of the community’s power brokers stopped in the downtown building that backed up to the Canal Basin. If people didn’t like stories, the phone rang or they showed up in person. It was all very exciting – and a little scary and overwhelming for a 22-year-old.

I was part of The Journal culture for about a year before joining The Daily News in Batavia. I was there 16 years before leaving on March 1, 2013 to help start the Orleans Hub.

I don’t regret the move, but I do miss seeing the articles and photos in print. The news stories feel more permanent when they’re in print. But clearly the Hub has an audience. We average over 4,000 unique visitors and about 12,000 page views each day. The Journal’s circulation has fallen from a high of over 5,000 to about 1,500.

The Hub has been growing. Mike Wertman joined us in late August and continues his relentless pace in covering local sports. The Hub has also been a showcase for Cheryl Wertman’s sports photography. Sue Cook also has been working part-time as a reporter.

The Hub is based out of The Lake Country Pennysaver in Albion. We get phone calls and people show up at the office when they don’t like things. We get letters to the editor and some folks have threatened to sue.

We’ve tried to fill some of the gap in local news coverage. We have a lot of news you don’t see in The Journal or The Daily News in Batavia, and they get some scoops that we don’t always have.

In many ways it’s felt like an old-fashioned newspaper war around here the past 14 months since the Hub debuted. There have been three publications with reporters covering the county, vying to be first and the most aggressive.

Orleans County is fortunate, in that way. Some communities don’t have a newspaper anymore. There isn’t an on-line news site, either.

Although many may think the Orleans Hub is a competitor to The Journal, we certainly didn’t want to see them go. The paper has been an institution for more than a century and many of its readers rely on The Journal for news.

The Journal has also been a force in recent months, especially with reports by Howard Balaban about the possible dissolution of the village of Medina. Balaban has looked at how dissolution has succeeded and failed in other communities. He has pressed local officials for their views on the topic, and has been tenacious in trying to track down Ridgeway and Shelby expenses in opposing dissolution. When the newspaper announced last month it would be closing, Balaban didn’t just coast to the finish line.

JR sports reporter Corey Desiderio also showed he is a hard-working journalist, capturing the action in local youth and high sports.

I was impressed the JR staff worked so hard, right up until the end.

This isn’t an easy time to be in the news business. Many newspapers have shut down in the past five years, including some in big cities. Many of the papers are a shell of themselves, with reduced staffs, pages and impact in the community. That’s not the fault of the reporters and editors. Many are putting in long hours, working hard and connecting with readers.

The community will miss The Journal. Through the years the staff has been committed. They deserve to take a bow.