Wednesday, January 27, 2010
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LDN celebrates 10 years

The mission of a neighborhood newspaper

By Mike Fak

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[January 27, 2010]  When I was a youngster growing up in Chicago in the '50s, there were four major newspapers in the city. Two of them, the Sun-Times and Tribune, printed three editions each day. The Herald-American and the Chicago Daily News were afternoon-only papers. I can't recall the circulations of all of them, but they were in the hundreds of thousands at the very least back then. I'm sure the Trib approached 500,000.

HardwareThere were many other newspapers in the city at the time. They were called the neighborhood newspapers, and there were upwards of 20 of them throughout the Chicagoland area. These publications came out just once a week and carried the news of a specific area within the city.

The neighborhood paper my family received when I was a young man was called the Portage Park Times. It was a simple 12-page paper that carried the news of the neighborhood surrounding the park. And for all the power and money and coverage that the giant papers had, the Portage Park Times was a very popular weekly.

The Times didn't carry the same stories the four major papers did. Rather it told us about the new park's swimming pool hours or had pictures of us playing baseball and everything else you can imagine went on in a neighborhood filled with people.

I remember the Portage Park Times listed all the dates and times when churches and schools and civic organizations were planning something. It had milestones and anniversaries and special announcements that weren't important enough for the big four to carry in their papers. But these items were more than important enough for the neighborhood paper to print. In effect, the paper was about us, our neighborhood, and readers loved it.

In a scrapbook, I have a picture of me swinging a bat in a park game when I was only 14, nearly a half-century ago. My mother cut it out and saved it in an album. The picture was special to her, and that thought always enters my mind when I am out taking pictures. "Is this something that will be kept for years? Is it something special to someone or perhaps several people? Do it right, Mike, and make it as good as you can because this is about people and your business is people," I think to myself.

That simple picture, kept by my mom for decades, reinforces daily the importance of what I do every time I hold a camera up and take a picture of someone.

The Portage Park Times was free and was supported only by advertisers who believed sponsoring news in the community was the same as sponsoring the community.

The Lincoln Daily News is just like those old neighborhood papers, and I think the success of our publication tells us a lot about ourselves: we, the producers, and you, the readers.

People like to have information about themselves and their projects, accomplishments or milestones made known to everyone else. People, even the modest ones, have a sense of pride in themselves and what they do that often not only leads to an interesting story, but also gives them a pick-me-up that you can just see on their faces.

I have learned, as our owners, the Youngquists, already knew, that when you engage the community you love, that community will engage and love you back. I ask where you can find a better job, a better calling than that.

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It has been such fun talking to people about their stories and seeing their faces light up when you tell them it will be in our paper on such and such date. People, for all their modesty, love to brag about themselves, their family or their organization, if given a chance. And why not? Good deeds, good work, good effort does not come with a mandate of silence. Rather it deserves, even demands, that it be shared with the rest of the neighborhood, or in our case, the world.

One of my very bad office jokes is that if given a choice between a top picture of a nuclear explosion or one of a bunch of kids accomplishing something, I go with the kids. A classic Mike Fak stretch of the imagination no doubt, but not far from the truth. For every mug shot or grim story we as a newspaper are compelled to publish, there are more thanks for showing a picture of the school band practicing for football season in the August heat or youngsters receiving honors for scholastic achievement. And maybe, just maybe, the story or picture gets printed out and put on the refrigerator or perhaps goes in a mom's scrapbook. Can there be a better compliment or mandate to try harder than that thought?

As a paper we have a responsibility to deliver all the news, good or bad, in a responsible way.

To be sure, the economy, sad and troubling stories, and all the other important events that shape our daily lives belong in the news and should be available for public discourse. We do that every day, hand-choosing the Associated Press stories we think you would be most interested in.

But there is more to us than just those stories. And we believe it is up to the neighborhood newspaper to tell us and show us that not everything in the world is wrong. Not everything is worthy of lamentation. There is triumph of accomplishment in our world, especially here, where we live and work and try so hard to be better than the day before.

As LDN celebrates its 10th anniversary, I want to tell all of you it has been my privilege these past two years to be associated with LDN. It has been my blessing to be associated with all of you.

I just didn't know you people were so darn busy.



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