I never fully understood the value of an independent weekly newspaper until I watched a PBS report on the demise of a small-town newspaper in Texas. The Canadian Record closed its doors after 132 years of covering the small town of Canadian, Texas. The loss of the newspaper was mourned by supporters as well as those who didn’t agree with the paper’s editorials.
The newspaper served a town of 2,600 in a largely rural area. The residents were described as “tough but empathetic. Forward-looking and conservative.” These conservatives transformed the area into MAGA country.
The Record’s political views, however, didn’t match those of its readers. Back in the day, the newspaper’s longtime publisher, Ben Ezzell, wrote “no-nonsense editorials” opposing the Vietnam War and supporting the Civil Rights Movement.
Local rancher Steve Rader did not agree with the newspaper’s editorials but said, “They always made me think.” He got choked up talking about the newspaper’s demise. He admitted that, “It feels personal. Our paper spoiled us. It celebrated our successes.”
It also chronicled their tragedies. In 2017, a wildfire devastated Rader’s ranch, destroying buildings, equipment and cattle. After The Record published a story about the fire, Rader received help from every part of the country. People donated hay and feed. One woman even gave him 10 cows.
Losing the paper was like a death in the family for many readers. Maybe that’s because the same family published it for 75 years. Ezzell and his wife Nancy took over the paper in 1948. Nancy penned her column, “Petticoat Patter,” for the next 55 years. When Ben died in 1993, their daughter Laurie Ezzell Brown stepped up.
Brown covered countless board meetings, reported from scenes of fires and storms and wrote editorials on national issues that had local impact. She worked with Nancy until she died in 2013. The newspaper lost revenue and operated on a shoestring budget. Many staffers left. Brown searched in vain for a successor, but the newspaper folded on March 2, which was a very hard day for “The Wrecking Crew.”
“Local news reminds people of what they have in common,” Brown said. “It reminds them we’re facing the same challenges. Information is powerful,” she continued, “Information is key to democracy.” A reader named John Julian would agree. “I don’t know who the candidates are. I no longer feel educated.”
When local newspapers fold, it results in a lack of oversight of school districts and local government, which can lead to greater corruption. A lack of educated voters can result in lower voter turnout or more straight-ticket voting. How can democracy stay strong without local newspapers?
How will we celebrate the achievements of local residents? How will we learn about local history and honor lives well lived. The paper lets us know what crimes are being committed. It tells us what businesses are opening and which are shutting down. It publicizes our cultural events and our gatherings for just plain fun.
People may not agree with The Review editorials. Others do not trust the newspaper to be fair in its reporting. Readers find factual errors in articles. But The Review has remained an independent news source for 106 years. We don’t belong to a chain. We don’t practice cookie-cutter journalism with stories that appeal to a region but not a specific town. We’re not a Republican newspaper, or a Democratic newspaper. We ignore national politics for the most part to focus on local elections.
When I watched the report about The Record, a saying came to mind: “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”
John Rice grew up in Oak Park, now lives in Forest Park, and writes a weekly column in the Forest Park Review, a Growing Community Media publication.