Once a week, probably around age 12, I rode my bike up and down Urbana Drive in the Wheaton-Glenmont neighborhood north of Washington, D.C., delivering copies of the Montgomery County Journal. My bike was black with newspaper baskets over the back wheel, and I once did a great end-over-end cartwheel off it while trying to impress a girl. I didn’t get the girl, but did break and dislocate all four left hand fingers and split open my upper lip. No applause, please.
The Journal was one of a collection of papers serving other D.C. metro counties. They were one company’s community newspaper answer to the behemoth that was The Washington Post. I have no idea if the different Journals still exist, and can only find trace references to them online.
Post-Newsweek Media Inc. -- ironically, a division of The Washington Post Company -- owns Gazette.net which publishes print products in Montgomery, Frederick and Prince George’s counties in suburban Maryland. They are considered “local, hometown” newspapers. I have no idea how well the Gazettes are doing financially for the Post, but -- with last week’s big news -- it may not matter. Or it may matter a lot.
The news, in case you hadn’t heard, is that Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post from the Graham family for $250 million.
Although I delivered the Journal, The Washington Post was the paper in our home during the multiple times I lived in the D.C. area. I have no memory of it, but I’ll bet we took it during the late 1960s and early 1970s. I know we did for six years after returning from Mexico in 1973, and again when we returned from the Northern Mariana Islands in 1982.
I believe my father is still a subscriber (I have visions of huge stacks of Posts on a bay window sill in a house in which we once lived in the Virginia suburbs); he tends to bring copies with him when he visits us.
In any event, The Washington Post has been a part of our family’s lives for a long, long time and for all of that time, it’s been owned by the Graham family. I was as surprised as anyone -- although not likely as surprised as its staff -- that the family had decided to sell it to Bezos.
One of the likely reasons the Grahams sold the paper is that, for years since the Internet revolution took hold, operating margins at major metropolitan newspapers across the country have become slimmer and slimmer. Not all of them -- perhaps none of them -- have figured out their print + digital game plan.
In the 13 years I’ve been with the C-I, I’ve seen South Carolina’s big metro dailies change hands, sometimes with what I believe were devastating effects. In some cases, the papers are no longer what they were. Despite being competitors, I do not dance on anyone’s grave. You would think I would, wouldn’t you? But good journalism supports democracy. We need more of that, not less.
That is even more true in Washington where which way the wind blows can be a subject of high political debate.
But let’s stay local, shall we? The ills of the newspaper industry are not universal. Or, at least, they are not universally the same ills or of the same degree.
Large metro dailies have suffered because they have tried to be all things to all people when readers have access to so much more information through cable TV and the Internet. I would dare say the Internet is even beating cable at this point.
But when it comes to what’s happening right here in Kershaw County, what are your digital choices?
Being a rather Internet-savvy person -- despite my position here at a newspaper, I get most of my news about things beyond Kershaw County via the Internet -- the only real local options I’ve seen are Facebook and the C-I’s website.
Facebook, however, is a part of cyberspace where fiction is sometimes laid out as truth, and where you never get the depth of the whole story.
Of course, the C-I uses Facebook, too, as more than 1,750 of you know. We post links to our top stories, put out news alerts and a few other things to update you on what we’re doing, hopefully leading you to our website (www.chronicle-independent.com). There, print subscribers can register to read stories online for free; those who don’t subscribe to the printed C-I can purchase access to the website’s news content. We believe our news has value; after all, we worked hard to bring it to you, regardless of platform.
We must be doing something right, because 8,477 different people visited our website between July 6 and Aug. 5. Nearly 60 percent of those visitors had visited us before. We appreciate the loyalty.
But numbers aren’t everything; it’s what behind them. The C-I is a part of this community. We bring you stories no one else will, whether hard, breaking news or light-hearted features.
Take Wednesday’s paper, for instance. While Columbia focused on university student housing and how the Discovery Channel’s being slammed for one of its shark documentaries, we highlighted a Lebanese woman visiting cousins right here in Camden. Who else is going to do that?
With the C-I, you’re getting stories about things happening right here at home, about people who live in your community.
Bezos may never snap us up -- which is OK -- but we plan to keep doing what we’re doing. No one has been able to duplicate that in Kershaw County, no matter what the technology.