A Peabody and Emmy Award–winning correspondent reports on the indignities, difficulties, delights and occasional triumphs of small-town newspapering.
Newspapers may be dying, but don’t tell that to Muller (Journalism/Univ. of Southern California; Now This: Radio, Television…and the Real World, 2000)—or to the editors of the Guadalupe County Communicator, the Canadian Record, the Mountain Eagle, the Anderson Valley Advertiser, the Canyon Country Zephyr, the Dove Creek Press, the Big Horn County News or the Norwood Post papers, among the many the author visits along her diverting, informative trip. In tough economic times, these newspapers still get by on ads and subscriptions, providing local news for tiny communities who can’t get that information anywhere else. In small towns—there are over 8,000 weeklies in the United States—newspapers still matter. Sometimes the stories are serious: the school superintendent who unilaterally decides to censor books at the high school, the district-attorney candidate who hides a cocaine habit, the child beaten to death by a single mother’s live-in boyfriend, the beloved local doctor arrested for stealing Indian artifacts from public land, or the elected school board that insists on doing business behind closed doors. Sometimes they are complex: the controversy over a newly built, never-occupied, multimillion-dollar detention facility in Montana that pits one town’s paper against the nearby Crow Tribe’s house organ and stirs up longstanding grievances in the land of Custer. More often, the news hole is filled by club doings, guest column or the three staples of local reporting for which Muller offers a delightful lesson in decoding the small-town style: school sports, where mythmaking and hyperbole rule, the obituaries, where euphemism reigns, and the police blotter, where the decision to name names underscores the special burden of small-town editors everywhere—“they have to live there, too.” Very occasionally under threat of violence, more often facing social isolation or financial pressure, these rural journalists’ devotion to truth-telling keeps the First Amendment alive and communities connected in grassroots America.
Told with deep affection and respect, a thoroughly engaging “journey down journalism’s blue highways.”