Shout-out for newspapers

They’re taking a beating lately, but they’re still invaluable

Mr. Waddell is adviser for the Chico State University newspaper, The Orion, as well as a journalism instructor and freelance writer.

When I answered my office phone, the first words out of the caller’s mouth were “I’m sorry to call you but …”

For some reason, those words came across as so tentative and genuine—and in such contrast to a world bombarded by health-care shout-downs and political pontificators—that I interrupted the caller to tell her that she really didn’t need to apologize.

As it turned out, there was nothing sorry about this caller. Her name is Liz Stewart, and she was inquiring about a feature story one of my Chico State students had written in 2007 about the historic Waterland-Breslauer building, the 98-year-old pink monolith that stands watch over City Plaza. That story was part of a series of articles, reported and written by journalism students, that the Enterprise-Record published over a week’s time about downtown Chico. Having saved the series, I pulled the yellowing newspapers from an office shelf to refresh my memory as Stewart and I chatted.

Stewart is old Chico and keen on community history. Her inquiry was related to the current Chico Museum exhibit that celebrates some of this community’s neighborhoods.

A resident of the Barber neighborhood, Stewart made me curious about the neighborhoods in our town. I asked her to name some, so she did. Chico Vecino. Chapman-Mulberry. Mansion Park. South of Campus.

I quickly found myself wanting to learn more about these and other Chico places, and it occurred to me that a series of neighborhood profiles could be a wonderful project for my reporting students. Suddenly, I was more excited about this fall’s furlough-fractured semester, and I think my students are, too, especially if they are able to get their work published.

After we hung up, I got to thinking about this valuable connection I had made with a community member, about how it might enrich my public-affairs reporting class, and about how it was a newspaper article that had brought us together.

Newspapers. Man, they’ve taken a beating lately.

Yet somehow in this digital age, the printed newspaper, along with its Web component, retains more credibility than other information sources that are strictly on the Internet and lacking in journalistic standards. Remember when Obama was elected, how people stood in long lines to buy extra runs of those historic printed newspapers?

So, today, I want to give out my gratitude for newspapers—their credibility, their permanence, and, quite recently in my case, their capacity for connecting people.