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Hyrum’s historic South Cache Courier: Connecting community with newsprint

December 11th, 2009 Posted in Arts and Life

By Heidi Hansen

HYRUM—With articles about the Harvest ball, club meetings, church announcements, town visitors and travelers, funerals and baptisms, wedding announcements, graduation ceremonies and a local movie theater reopening, the front pages of the former South Cache Courier display a kind of community-oriented journalism not often seen in today’s papers.

“The front page was all local. It had everything from sacrament meeting speakers in the three different [Latter-day Saint] wards to a burglary at the Hyrum Drug Co. and obituaries for Hyrum’s original settlers,” Matt McBride, Hyrum Museum docent, said Monday.

“In one issue we have on display there is a story about Dr. Hubbard going out of town for a week. That kind of thing just doesn’t get printed today,” McBride said. “But at the time he was the only doctor for miles, so it was important to let people know he’d be gone.”

McBride said that “to have the paper meant you knew what was going on.” The South Cache Courier, printed weekly between 1910 and 1960, was local people’s only way of finding out what was going on in their community and with people from the community, he said. For example, stories about people going out of town or moving away were common, as well as articles about local club and church happenings, he said.

According to sociology professor Terry L. Besser from Iowa State University, small town newspapers can serve an important function in community life when they report the daily events of local people.

“Small town papers can reflect, affirm and even help build a positive community atmosphere. Instead of covering national and state news, the niche of small newspapers is to concentrate on local, personal and community events,” writes Besser in a report titled Why Care about Small Town Newspapers. “In the process they help local citizens define what it means to be a member of the local community.”

“Small town newspapers report about important events in common peoples’ lives,” Besser wrote. “This alerts readers of the paper to the significant event in their neighbor’s life and allows the community to celebrate with, or comfort and support those involved.”

Small town newspapers can play an important economic role for the community as well. The newspaper business model is one of balance between newspaper readership and ad dollars based on that readership. A small community papers market share is more valuable to local businesses because the audience of the paper is also the local businesses target audience.

“Most of all small town newspapers depend more on local ads for their very existence than large city newspapers,” Tom Egelhoff, a marketing specialist, says on his Web site. “If a small town newspaper loses a couple of advertisers the paper suddenly gets smaller. The smaller it gets, the less it’s read, until it isn’t there anymore…. I always say a town with a paper, even a bad paper, is better than a town with no paper.”

McBride said most of the advertisements in the South Cache Courier were either for businesses located in Hyrum or Logan. Ads for places like Jack Mortensen’s Shoe Store, Hyrum Drug, Smith Brothers Lumber and A.H. Parker Awning and Linoleum were common. The occasional national ad ran as well. McBride said those are easy to spot because they are usually for things that people in Hyrum aren’t doing.

In many cases, small town newspapers have dwindled alongside locally owned businesses. Without support of local business dollars they are unable to continue the costly production of newspapers, and without support of local newspapers many local businesses lose customers to their big city counterparts with ads on TV and radio.

Many of the businesses that advertised with the South Cache Courier, especially those from Hyrum such as Hyrum Drug Co,, are now closed as well. Driving down Main Street in Hyrum one can see that the downtown scene used to be significantly different than it is today. Many of the old business buildings are abandoned or have been torn down to make way for new buildings. A few are landmarked, like the Elite Dance Hall, but are not regularly used.

“The old business district located around Main Street in Hyrum is pretty much gone,” McBride said, as most of the business has moved up to the east end near the highway and are now primarily chains like McDonalds and Subway.”

The South Cache Courier and other papers like it across the nation played a significant role in community life. However, just as small towns have turned into suburbs for metro areas, their papers have disappeared to make way for mid-sized metro papers.

At one time Cache Valley was able to support several newspapers that catered to the individual communities that make up the valley. In 1948, Cache Valley Publications printed the South Cache Courier, as well as the North Cache News, the Smithfield Sentinel and Cache America. Now each of these papers has closed and The Herald Journal attempts to cover all of Cache Valley.

“The South Cache Courier was a very local paper. Then The Herald Journal came about with more big articles and some of the same articles and people didn’t see a reason to pay for both,” McBride said. “Then there was a kind of metamorphosis of newspapers.”

The Ogden-metro area has experienced a similar situation. In Roy there was the Sun Chronicle and the Lakeside Review and North and South Ogden (which are separate cities) each had their own papers all until the 1980s. Several other papers were published in Ogden as well. Now all of these papers have disappeared as well, and the Standard Examiner attempts to cover all of Weber and Davis counties, with only small competition from the Davis Clipper and the Hill Top Times.

Obviously, stories similar to these have happened in metro areas across the country. The number of newspapers in circulation reached an all-time high during 1910 with 2,600 dailies and 14,000 weeklies, according to writesite.org. However, as Editor & Publisher reports, “the number of daily newspapers in the U.S. has declined over the past half-century… In particular, the number of evening newspapers has fallen by almost one-half since 1970.”

However, at the Hard News Café, reporters often hear comments from people that they feel their city or town is under-covered by the mainstream media.

“There are so many people and so many events to report in big towns and cities, that there isn’t enough space to report the small good things that happen in everyday life,” Besser said.

Or as Ben Morris, editor of the online Providence Citizen puts it on their site, “It’s not feasible for larger newspapers (i.e. the Herald Journal) to give small towns the coverage they need; they generally focus on “the big picture” and run few stories about small towns.

“Providence and River Heights are both unique communities…” Morris says. “It’s vital that members of the community are able to participate in local politics, and know what’s going on in their city council.”

“I think as a community we get clumped. For example, the media thinks anything past Ogden is Idaho,” McBride said. “So if it’s not a major event it doesn’t get reported. I think the Herald Journal does a decent job with what they have, you know they don’t have a lot of reporters or regular beats anymore.

“I remember when coverage for crimes was much better, that kind of thing we’re losing,” he added. “Some stuff happens in Hyrum and you can’t read about it anywhere.”

Today there is a lot of talk about big city papers closing due to significant drops in ad revenues as the papers try to compete with the Internet. With this there has been a general movement among the press at all levels to focus more on local coverage and on stories people can’t find elsewhere on the Internet so that their publication stays valuable.

If one does a quick search on the Internet, they will find the emergence of many local online news sites like the Providence Citizen and the Smithfield Sun in Cache Valley.

While McBride reminisces about the South Cache Courier, he does not know if it could be replicated today. He feels a local paper would be able to provide a new sense of community and bring people together again. He said it might also provide different twists on topics. For example, in the South Cache Courier archives there as an article about how South Cache High beat Logan High, but apparently it was a controversial game, because the Herald Journal printed that Logan beat South Cache, he said.

To have something like the South Cache Courier again would be “like if the university paper were there on every single level. We would know more about what’s going on in our own geographical areas.”


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