Radio journalist Herb Morrison famously sobbed, “Oh, the humanity,” as he reported the catastrophic fire engulfing the Hindenburg airship in 1937. Lost to history is that these words of horror were fresh on his mind from that morning when he opened his front door, bent down to pick up the local newspaper, and saw the print format had changed. “Oh, the humanity,” he gasped to no one because the familiar look of his newspaper had gone through a shocking change.
I channeled my inner Herb Morrison yesterday morning when I opened my front door, bent down to pick up my Sauk Valley Media newspaper, and saw the new print format – Oh, the humanity!
Why, oh why, change the newspaper I love?
Grocery stores do this every so often. I walk in expecting the familiar look and feel, and I am stopped by what appears to be a completely different store. Once, I actually turned around and left, thinking a senior moment had led me to drive to the wrong store. And, along with this different look, stuff gets rearranged. I would know exactly where to quickly find everything on my grocery list, even the once-in-a-blue-moon items like cheese cloth (no, it’s not in the dairy case) and tahini paste (yes, it’s a real thing), and then one day . . . oh, the humanity . . . the store has been completely changed and finding even the most common items like soups and cereals is like a quest to find the Holy Grail.
As maddening as this is at the grocery store, it is worse with the newspaper because the local newspaper is where we acquire so much information essential to living a full life in the Sauk Valley.
Our newspaper is where journalists like Kathleen Schultz and Rachel Rodgers provide critical reporting on our local governments, businesses, and schools. It is where we acquire hope for the future by reading about our students of the month, where we celebrate our sports teams’ victories and lament their defeats, and where we see snapshots of the Sauk Valley through the lens of photographers like Alex Paschal.
Our newspaper is where we mourn the passing of our neighbors and celebrate their lives, where we engage in open governance by reading legal notices, advertise our businesses and seek future employees, and even plan our weekend entertainment.
Our newspaper is where we relax with the humor of the daily comics – where Stephen Pastis delivers his sardonic wit in Pearls Before Swine, Scott Adams’ Dilbert captures workplace absurdities, and Jim Davis’ Garfield the cat has lived (or more aptly napped) since the 1970s.
And, being local, our newspaper has local leadership in Jennifer Heintzelman, its general manager. She knows what is important locally because she and her family live locally, and she knows about changing the Sauk Valley for the better because she is a well-respected local leader.
Yes, I understand why Sauk Valley Media has made this change. Standardizing the print format across its local newspapers gives it efficiencies that will help it remain economically viable. With the future of local newspapers having been precarious for a long time, Sauk Valley Media has found ways to remain profitable and, thus, keep publishing our local newspaper. If a change in format means I can keep learning from and enjoying my local newspaper, then I will toughen up and accept change.
But I won’t like it . . . until I get used to it.
Dave Hellmich is president of Sauk Valley Community College. He can be reached at email@example.com.