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Opinion

Hello, and here we are

SoVaNow.com / August 22, 2018
Today’s edition of The Mecklenburg Sun is being mass-mailed to 20,000 area homes with the kickoff of our annual subscription drive, and if you choose to sign up for a year of The Sun, you’ll get loads of good stuff over the next 52 weeks — all for only $14 ($28 a year for out-of-area subscribers).

Here’s short list of The Sun’s standard features: the best local news and sports coverage in the area, human interest stories, excellent photography, a steady drumbeat of community happenings and events, five Lake Editions during the spring and summer months, other special sections throughout the year, helpful advertisements from local businesses and organizations, grocery store inserts and weekly coupon booklets (these two items alone more than pay for the cost of a subscription) and the various ramblings that you’ll find in this space here.

This is my sandbox where I comment on the issues of the day, many local in nature, some that are not — the column topics depend on what I think will capture the interest of readers at any given point of time. Of course, one of the great things about a printed product is you can always pick and choose the parts you enjoy reading. The rest is handy as fish wrap and pet box liner.

(And, please, do be sure to recycle your leftover newspapers.)

Along with being a platform for introducing people to The Sun, our mass mailings also present an opportunity to talk a little about ourselves. Except that’s not really what we like to do. Our business is about reporting the news of the community, as fairly and completely as we can, and outside of the standard promotional fare there’s almost never a need to make the story about ourselves. Unfortunately, the job of reporting the news is a little more fraught than usual nowadays, so I guess it behooves us, at least for a brief moment, to address the subject.

You may have read elsewhere that newspapers around the country have banded together this week to write editorials in defense of a free press — last I checked, the number of participating newspapers exceeded 300. This unprecedented effort is spurred by President Trump’s Tweets and campaign rhetoric denigrating the press as “the enemy of the people.” Anyone who has ever glanced at this space knows how little stock I put in anything coming out of the mouth of Donald Trump, and for the President of the United States to call reporters and editors “the enemy of the people” is a frontal assault on anyone who works in this business. Trump’s characterization is also the epitome of “fake news,” but there you go.

I want to talk about something different — that is, the obligations of media outlets to their readers, viewers and listeners. At the local level, it’s a pretty simple proposition: We cover the news that others don’t, which means we sometimes get to highlight the wonderful things going on in the community, and sometimes we do the other thing — report on more unsavory aspects, of which there seems to be no shortage nowadays. One thing we strive to do is maintain a sense a balance, which is harder than it looks. The easiest work in journalism is copying details from a police crime blotter. We do our fair share of this type of work, but try hard to not let it define our product or our mission.

Lots of important subjects require context and explanatory effort to fully convey, and making this stuff interesting to a general reading audience isn’t the easiest thing to do. We plug away at it, anyway — and if we fail to engage, inform or entertain our readers, that’s our failing and you still have our TV listings to turn to. But the alternative to serious reporting is a superficial, shallow front page, one that isn’t a whole lot more useful than Facebook or the office gossip corner in telling you what you need to know about the world around us. As it happens, Mecklenburg County is experiencing a remarkable moment, with especially big decisions to make regarding its public schools, at the same time the county makes the transition from its farm-and-factory past to … well, that’s yet to be determined, right? Point is, we’re committed to making the transition, too, with an aim to pass on information that people need to know. We think it’s interesting and important work.

We also realize none of it would be possible without the support of you, the reader, our advertisers and other friends. (On this note, please shop local. It’s another way to keep the community moving forward.) The sad truth of the media biz these days is that more and more local communities are becoming news deserts — either ill-served or not served at all by traditional information platforms such as newspapers and radio and TV news programs. “Democracy dies in darkness,” the slogan of The Washington Post proclaims, and in our own modest way we ascribe to this view as well. We thank you for allowing us to do the work that we do, and pledge to produce the best possible newspaper for Mecklenburg County and surrounding areas that we can. Today’s mass mailing represents a sample of that commitment, and we hope you enjoy it. And we especially appreciate your feedback, criticisms, suggestions on how we can do better, and most of all, your readership.

***

A few odds ‘n’ ends before we go:

» It’s not too early to put in a plug for the inaugural Lake Country sprint triathlon, the Paddle Or Splash, Pedal and Dash event on Saturday, Oct. 6 at Occoneechee State Park. I’m planning to give it a try, having never attempted a triathlon before, and if you find that another writer has taken over this space starting the second week of October, this’ll be why. On a related note, the annual Crossing of Lake Gaston at Eaton Ferry Bridge near Littleton, N.C., took place Aug. 11 and it was an absolute smash, drawing nearly 400 participants (probably 100 or so who crossed Gaston by swimming the one-mile distance from one bank to the other at Eaton Ferry). I was part of the field of swimmers and did my customary thing of traversing open water in a long arc rather than a straight line, which helps account for my lousy time (among other things.) The Clarksville triathlon consists of a .62 mile open swim (you can also paddle the distance in a kayak or canoe), a 20-mile trail bike ride through the state park, and a 5K run to cap everything off. I’ll be recruiting a teammate for the running portion of the event (my daughter runs cross-country in high school and appreciates a good bribe) but I’m planning to do the swim and biking portions, provided I hold out that long. Exciting! I can’t wait to see who else with an appetite for the foolhardy takes part in the event, sponsored by the Mecklenburg County YMCA.

» I write about election matters all the time in this space, so a heads-up: If you aren’t registered to vote, or are unsure about your voting status, assistance will be available on Monday, Sept. 24, and Tuesday, Oct. 2, at the Clarksville public library. Trained volunteers will be on hand to answer any questions you may have about exercising your right to vote, such as registration deadlines, voter ID requirements and the like.

» Finally, I didn’t want to let the week go by without highlighting a little piece of joy in this dark and foreboding world of ours: “Christopher Robin.” This wise and bittersweet movie is now showing in theaters, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I saw it this weekend with my wife and daughter (the father-daughter relationship between a grown-up Christopher Robin and his daughter is as central to the movie as adult Christopher’s reunion with Winnie the Pooh and his friends from the Hundred Acres Wood) and you won’t leave the theater without going through truckloads of Kleenex. The film is so emotionally delicate and beautiful that the requisite chase scenes involving Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and friends came as a relief, since it was only part of the story that didn’t leave you blubbering like a baby over life’s long and uneven journey. After leaving the theater, it was a long time before anyone in our party said a word. But ultimately, “Christopher Robin” is a joyous, affirming movie — go see it with someone you love. Now pardon me while I go pull the crying towel out of the wash and find a quiet place to pull myself together.

I’ll try to be back in time to offer some thoughts on the upcoming Oscar nominations.





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