12 June 2014

Disappearing Newspapers -- How will our descendants learn about our lives?

Tarbor' Press (Tarboro, N.C.), 1844_01-06
Source: http://library.digitalnc.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/newstarboro/id/4276/rec/1  

This article, The Daily Southerner of Tarboro to end publishing, recently printed in the News and Observer, was a painful article to read.  A version of this newspaper has been in print since 1824 making it one of the few NC newspapers whose existence can be traced back almost 200 years.  It served the community of Tarboro (population about 11,000 in 2012) and much of Edgecombe County (population about 56,000 in 2012).

Community newspapers such as The Daily Southerner (or the Tarboro Free Press or The Southerner as it was alternately called through time) add so much richness to our research when we find articles about our family in them.  Such newspapers often had pages and pages devoted to "social news" and similar scattered throughout every edition.  No bigger city newspapers could or do have the local flavor of a newspaper like this one.  As part of my work as a professional genealogist in NC, I do a lot of research in the many NC newspapers looking for death notices, marriage announcements, birth notices, who was in the hospital, who was visiting from out of town, court cases notices and much, much more and every time I am looking for something specific, I am always distracted by all the notices that are such delightful-to-read personal tidbits about life in a community – a visit from extended family, attending an event out of the area, the death of a loved one living elsewhere, business travel and so much more.

This is not the type of news that one finds in modern newspapers nor, over the years, in the bigger city newspapers. I grew up in a small town, Newtown (CT), and The Newtown Bee is still published.  I can still “see” the offices as I mentally drive through town.  The “Bee” came out every Friday (if memory serves me) and you couldn’t wait to read it to find out what had been happening in town that you might not have learned via the grapevine.  For bigger city news we read the Danbury newspaper.

Some of the same purpose of distributing local news is now often served by Facebook or other social media sites and it’s not like each town has a Facebook page nor does it include the same types of news as a local newspaper.  And, how many people print out and save a Facebook page entry for their scrapbook? How much news across the breadth of a community is reported via Facebook?  Social media is just not the same as a newspaper.  There is still something about the touch and feel of a newspaper ... (and, yes, I love physical print books also!)

Sigh ... let’s hope that we and future generations are great stewards of preserving social media sites as I suspect that the Daily Southerner will not be the last small town newspaper to disappear ... with each one that stops publication, what once was the heartbeat of a community is silenced. 

The North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill via its Facebook page gave a nice summary of where one can access extant copies of this newspaper.
Library of Congress' Chronicling America site (1835 – 1975, 1225 issues)
+ Earlier issues can be found on DigitalNC (March 26, 1824 – December 21, 1844, 991 issues)

Has your community recently lost its newspaper? 
What is the neatest piece of personal or local news you found printed in a small-town newspaper?
What impact has the loss of the newspaper had upon your community?

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