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Cook column: News business never changes

Getting ready to talk to the Salisbury Kiwanis Club last week, I did some research and checked out the club’s file at the Post. I came across some interesting stuff.
First, I found a photo from one of the TB camps the Kiwanis Club sponsored back during the Depression to treat children for tuberculosis. The 35 or so children posing for the group photo almost look like refugees ó skinny arms and legs, the outline of their ribs showing on their bare chests, all the effects of TB. But they’re smiling, many of them, because they are having a chance to play and get better, thanks to the Kiwanis Club.
I also found an interesting photo from 1983 of a wedding for who else but Mr. Kiwanis and Miss Pancake. Sure looked like Francis Cook and Norman Ingle to me ówith Norman in drag. They staged the “wedding” to promote the Pancake Festival the club sponsors every March ó the next one is March 7 and 8 at the Hurley YMCA. Kiwanians will do just about anything to promote the Pancake Festival. It’s their own brand of March madness.
Both those photos, and the stories that went with them, are good examples of the relationship between the Post and our readers, and the way we build community together.
The Hurley family owned the Salisbury Post for 85 years, and from the beginning, they worked to make the community better. As Salisbury goes, so goes the Post. And the Hurleys came up with some novel methods to boost the local economy.
For example, in 1929 they bought a bull and brought it here to sire a new and stronger generation of dairy stock for area farmers.
Another popular service provided by the Post in the 1920s was an electronic scoreboard on the outside of the building, facing Church Street. Traffic on Innes Street would stop as drivers checked on the latest pennant race or the World series.
A lot has changed since the 1920s. We’ve gone from being the only news source easily available to local residents to being one of a countless horde, seemingly. News is everywhere, 24/7, seeping into our pores from TV, magazines, cable, radio, the Internet ó and still from newspapers.
When I landed a job at the Post in 1978, the front page was dominated by national and international news from the Associated Press. Now, though, with so many forms of media providing that information, we emphasize local news ó the thing we can offer readers that no one else has. We still carry news from the AP, but our franchise is local news.
The Hurleys sold the paper in 1997 to Evening Post Publishing Co., based in Charleston, S.C., but we have the same mission in our newsroom we’ve always had: hold up mirror to community, document local history, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, be a watchdog on government ó and connect readers by letting them know about upcoming events, like the Pancake Festival and by sharing people’s stories.
The Salisbury Post has always cared about this community, and a lot of people associate that caring with the Hurleys. But it still runs throughout the building, and it’s particularly strong for those of us who have been around for a while ó photographer Wayne Hinshaw, for example, who’s been with us some 37 years, and reporter Mark Wineka, writing about Salisbury more than 25 years. Alvin Smith, in production, has been here 38 years. Charlie James in advertising started at the Post in 1957.
Then and now, the Post reports what goes on in our area warts and all, the good and the bad. But we cannot be cavalier about it. We take our responsibility to inform readers and do it right very seriously. It’s our community too. We’re writing for and about our neighbors.
Sometimes what we report or how we report it makes people mad or sad ó or worse, disappointed in the Post.
But people need to know what’s happening if they’re going to be active, involved citizens, even if it’s something that disturbs them. They need to know about things like the rash of child abuse deaths here in 1997, the county manager’s hiring of a private investigator a few years ago and ó less scandalous but very important ó the outdated and dangerous condition of the Yadkin River Bridge. And, looking back to the Depression, they needed to know about the horrible impact of TB on children, so people like Kiwanis Club members could do something about it. If you don’t know about the things that are going wrong, you can’t take a role in making them right. The flow of information ó good and bad ó is what makes democracy tick.
We’re still committed to helping people make that connection. Thanks to the Internet, though, we are not just a newspaper anymore. Now we can share news with readers throughout the day at salisburypost.com. So we’re shaking off the rhythm and habits of always aiming for that daily deadline ó and starting to think of every minute as a deadline if there’s something happening we can report. And we’ve started doing online surveys and blogs to create another way for people to connect.
It’s the electronic scoreboard all over again, only the Web site goes beyond sports. And you don’t have to drive downtown to see it. Just turn on your computer.
I’m not saying newspapers are dinosaurs headed for extinction. There will always be a place for a printed newspaper that you can sit down with and enjoy each day. But evolution has definitely taken hold, and it’s survival of the fittest. Fortunately, we have a strong past to help carry us forward.
nnn
Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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