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The Union responds to the challenge

Richard Somerville, Editor
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

This is a significant week to begin work as editor of The Union. A year ago, the world was shocked by airliners crashing into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Since then, America has been plunged into a war in Afghanistan and is contemplating one against Iraq.

For months after Sept. 11, people remembered what their newspapers were meant to be: sources of in-depth information amid chaos; poignant stories about heroes and victims; explanations of who had done this, and why, and how. Millions of extra editions were sold, even as cable news channels covered 9/11 around the clock.

At the time, I was at the Readership Institute at Northwestern University in suburban Chicago. A career journalist, I was taking a few years outside the newsroom to participate in the largest research project ever undertaken into the decline of newspaper readership. What we learned from our analysis ‹ and from 9/11 – was that the “fourth estate” – whether ink on paper or pixels on a screen ‹ is even more important than ever in being the glue for a democratic society.



That1s why, a year later, I find myself at The Union. Understanding in theory a community1s need for a good newspaper – for unique, relevant and well-told stories – is a long way from making it happen.

In looking to return to the newsroom, I sought a newspaper that was small enough to respond quickly to the needs of its readers, yet large enough to have the resources to do so. I was also seeking a vibrant, intellectually active community.




I seem to have found both in The Union and western Nevada County. I have a lot to learn, but I1m told that people here really care about their community, with strong vocal advocates from the entire range of the political spectrum. And from the phone calls and e-mails, plus comments in the street in the few days I have been here, The Union is at the center of this vortex of opinion.

Our challenge is to respond to the needs of a growing population that is demanding more from its newspaper than ever before. While The Union will inevitably come up short in providing the depth of national and world coverage of a New York Times, or even a Sacramento Bee, we have the capability and skills to be the best news source for Nevada County. To that end, we plan to:

– Undertake an in-depth study of our readers and their lifestyles in order to leverage our news resources to best advantage, both in the traditional print edition and at theunion.com, the area’s leading online news source.

– Re-evaluate our reporters’ beats so that coverage areas that are most important to our readers are covered on a regular basis, with depth and knowledge.

– Reassess our coverage of the many communities in our circulation area to be sure great stories come to our attention, no matter where they may be.

– Ensure that our editorial pages will be a place for the community to debate local issues and strive for common ground through reasoned, vigorous argument and without anger or rancor. That’s why there will be no place for name-calling or unsubstantiated accusations on our opinion pages, and why I1m reconsidering whether judicious editing can take the place of rigid rules on letters to the editor.

In the spirit of those days following last Sept. 11, our readers can help me and themselves at the same time. What kind of newspaper does Nevada County need, and deserve? What should I know about the communities and the people in our coverage area that will make me a better editor? E-mails are preferred at somerville@theunion.com, although voicemails also are welcome at 477-4235. In my next column, I’ll share what I hear.

Richard Somerville is editor of The Union. Contact him at 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; 477-4235; or somerville@theunion.com.


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