Scott Hollifield: Small-town community news was the Facebook of its time

Before the turn of the century (I like writing that because it makes me seem like a learned historian instead of one of the last newspaper humor columnists churning out material to take up space between a dry-as-dirt report on a zoning board meeting and a listing for a 2016 Ford Focus with low miles for sale on a classified page), the community news section of a hometown newspaper was the Facebook of its time.

The big city papers, or metros, rarely featured this stuff but many smaller papers covering what would be considered towns rather than cities featured micro community news from outlying areas – reports about who ate supper at a neighbor’s house, who was in visiting from way over yonder in Kingsport, Tennessee, who was in the hospital with a bad case of the gout and what the preacher preached on last Sunday.

I began my newspaper career in the late 80s, just as these reports from places like Turkey Cove, Dysartsville and Nebo, usually written by women with long-standing ties to the area, were on their way out.

I suppose some all-knowing newspaper executive stood up at a board meeting full of other all-knowing newspaper executives and said, “We’re cutting out all these backwoods, hillbilly musings about what is going on in the everyday lives of the people reading our newspapers and focusing on important news about zoning board meetings, trade embargos and Wall Street earnings. The newspaper is and always will be where people get their information and WE will tell them what’s important.”

A couple of decades later, Facebook came along and proved that people do care about who ate where, who is in visiting from way over yonder in Kingsport, Tennessee, who is in the hospital with a bad case of the gout and what the preacher preached on last Sunday. Not only do they care about it, they often want to fight about it.

People are people, so I imagine if community news back in the day had a social media element to it, the results would have been similar:

Edith Pandleton writes: I just wanted to tell all my Facebook friends here on the interwebs that this week’s edition of The Weedsville Gazette is out and my report is on page 8B above the Michelin ad. I have a riveting account of Clyde Burstrom’s goat tearing down his neighbor’s barbed-wire fence, sewing tips and a special look at my sister Eunice’s Tupperware party. Spoiler alert: A good time was had by all!

Janice Burstrom replies: Edith, for the record, Clyde’s goat did no such of a thing. The fence post was rotten and fell over. Plus, I didn’t have a good time at the Tupperware party.

Edith: Janice, are you questioning my journalistic integrity right here on the Facebook? I will have you know my source on the goat story was none other than Clyde’s brother Delbert. And you bought $27 worth of Tupperware.

Janice: Edith, poor ol’ Delbert hasn’t drawn a sober breath since the Nixon administration and I spent $27 so I could get out of there, go home and watch “Hollywood Squares.” #truth.”

Edith: Don’t you start hashtagging on me! I’ll hashtag on you!

Janice: I’ll do what I want because it’s still a free country and the Second Amendment gives me the right to free speech.

Edith: That would be the First Amendment.

Janice: You come on my land and you’ll see that it’s the Second Amendment what does the talking. #Smith & Wesson.

Edith: I’m fixing to de-friend you and start this very minute on next week’s Gazette article, the headline of which will read “Psychotic local threatens community news reporter, good time not had by all.” First though, I want you to know I’m praying for Clyde in his courageous battle with the gout.

Janice: Thank you, Edith. #blessed.

 Scott Hollifield is editor/GM of The McDowell News and a humor columnist. Contact him at rhollifield@mcdowellnews.com.

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