When I lived and worked in St. Joseph, Missouri, a few years ago (A few years? Ha! It was thirty years; but who’s counting?), one of my responsibilities was to keep up with what was going on in the small communities around St. Joe. At that time, most of them had locally-owned weekly newspapers, usually located in the county seat town, and a prominent feature of all these papers were columns written by “community correspondents”. These correspondents were not reporters for the newspaper, as such; indeed, few had any formal journalism training, but they all had their fingers on the pulse of their towns and villages, some of which were little more than a collection of houses around an intersection of two county roads and the surrounding farms.
The weekly columns were enlightening, informative, often unintentionally funny and sometimes quite sad, recounting the comings and goings of local residents and their families. Les Anderson, associate professor of communication at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas, surveyed weekly and small dailies in Kansas a few years back and found that most of the editors of those papers highly valued the contributions of their correspondents, but acknowledged that it was getting harder and harder even then to recruit new writers when the column’s principal, who tended to be elderly women, gave up the post.
Correspondent columns live on, but are becoming harder to find. I did a Google search recently and found it very difficult to locate small town news from community columnists, primarily because mostly weekly newspapers now have an on-line version that seems to delete the correspondents’ contributions in favor of “hard news”.
Now all of this is leading up to a new project that I’m beginning: a short story about a community correspondent, which will include fictional columns about the happenings in Walnut Shade, a small village in MIller County, Kansas (Walnut Shade and Miller County are fictional, but Kansas is, mostly, not). You can find the story starting on the page entitled “Your Faithful Correspondent” on this blog. I’ll be adding to it periodically, so check back when you can. I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think.