Guest Commentary: Some more conversation neededI get asked fairly often why I’m not writing for the paper any more. “Well,” goes my snarky reply “one cannot insult Oberstar, Obama or the Honking Tree and expect to escape unscathed.”
By: Greg Hull, Silver Creek, Lake County News Chronicle
I get asked fairly often why I’m not writing for the paper any more. “Well,” goes my snarky reply “one cannot insult Oberstar, Obama or the Honking Tree and expect to escape unscathed.”
For the record, the official reason I was eliminated as a regular contributor was budgetary restrictions.
When I opened the first News-Chronicle of the year, and saw that the story of the Honking Tree was given the title of “Story of the Year,” I wondered if my stock answer was less snarky and closer to the truth.
Newspapers, by definition, should be printing the news. They should report events that occur. They should give us a broad picture of life in the region. In that regard, I think our new staff at the paper has done an admirable job. From goings- on in the county to pictures of kids kicking balls and politicians bagging deer, the Chronicle does portray life north of the Knife.
But events that occur, from high school games to county meetings to killing wolves and cutting white pines, are more than just solitary events in a random universe. The significance of these actions run much deeper, because they signify broader values and ideas. Each is a small barometer of our local culture, and harbingers of trends and patterns that will stretch into the future.
For that reason, the paper needs to be more than a forum for recording random actions and occurrences. It ought to be a medium in which the ideas and values behind the events are discussed and evaluated.
Local weekly papers in general and the News-Chronicle in particular, are often the only place that can happen. In Lake County, it is the only forum we have which ties the entire county together. We have no local radio or TV station, no competing regional paper, nothing beyond some blogs and web sites in which we can not only find out what’s going on, but also discuss and debate.
That means, of course, that the editor and staff need to have the wisdom of Solomon, and the ubiquitous presence of the KGB to know what’s going on in our region and to perceive the relative significance of it all. That’s a huge requirement, on a shoe-string budget.
I have noted the letters to the editor that have been printed in the new Chronicle, praising its new spirit, look and attitude. “Agates” have been given for the elimination of what some deemed to be the less positive outlook and cantankerous bickering.
By contrast are folks who think the paper is missing something. Each has a different way of phrasing their concerns, but at root they seem to say the same thing. What is vital and missing is the ongoing debate of ideas and the significance of local events, rather than merely the record of the events themselves.
I have no idea who identified the Honking Tree as the most significant story of the year, or the criteria by which all the stories, events and decisions within our region were evaluated. But for those who are involved in the fiber of our community, it is very difficult to conclude that the vandalism of the Honking Tree was the most significant and newsworthy event in Lake county in 2009.
We face 2010, as we have faced each new year and new decade, with significant issues, challenge and problems. While the debate of ideas can be as appealing at time as watching sausage be made, the reaction should not be to eliminate it.
To do so would be as foolish and destructive as cutting down a popular tree.
Greg runs his own sawmill north of Two Harbors.