News, Opinion

Opinion: We’re still here, and that’s because of you

by Kate Shunney, Editor

The Morgan Messenger

I wonder if S.S. Buzzerd and Lewis Frey, back in 1893, talked about how long their new newspaper for Morgan County might last. Having worked with lots of entrepreneurs over the years, I doubt it. Those guys were risk-takers and had a vision, but they knew their success depended on factors beyond themselves. Their earliest editions say the paper would only be a success with staunch support from friends and associates. They were offering something useful that could last, if the people decided to back it and keep it going.

Here we are, 130 years later, still printing The Morgan Messenger each week.

It’s a powerful statement about this county, the Buzzerd family and our newspaper staff that we’re still here. We know the main ingredient for success – still – is the support of our community.

A weekly newspaper that’s been owned and operated by multiple generations of one family over more than a century is a truly rare thing. Rarer by the day.

In the last several decades, small communities across America have watched their local newspapers disappear. What follows is always bad news for those places – a less vibrant business community, lower voter turnout, greater risk of government misdeeds, a loss of historical record and less common ground.

Keeping an independent local newspaper alive and printing may seem like a kind of quaint country tradition. It is, in fact, a ferocious commitment to democracy and the free exchange of ideas – a promise to uphold the power of regular people.

The late John Douglas, who worked for The Morgan Messenger for 38 years, hired me as a young part-time reporter. John was a great believer in the power of people to transform their communities. He saw local newspapers – THIS local newspaper – as a meeting place for people and their ideas. He liked a good fight and felt like it was a sign that people cared about their county.

Complaints can be made, triumphs can be celebrated and disagreements can be worked out as long as people can find some common ground among them. Our pages serve that purpose, week in and week out.

Some of the common ground we build is an accurate record of what happens in Morgan County – in our courthouse, on our streets, in our schools, etc. Our common ground is our shared history, which we record and preserve. Birth announcements, obituaries, tax listings, voter ballots, election results, marriage notices, meeting recaps, photos and stories become our collective community history. It’s not always complete, but 130 years of weekly newspapers paint a detailed portrait of this county that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

It’s no small accomplishment these days to have created, nurtured, maintained and protected a civic space that’s open to different viewpoints. This paper’s editors have guarded this space, knowing it is a powerful tool in keeping American democracy and civility alive.

This newspaper is also a business, with bills and employees to pay, lights to keep burning, postage to cover and computers to keep upgraded. We keep the operation running by selling ads to promote our business partners and renewing subscriptions. Print work – posters, stationary, raffle tickets, business cards — also builds partnerships and pays the bills.

There’s no corporation bank-rolling our newsroom. Google and Facebook don’t pay us for the content we create every week that winds up in their universe. AI doesn’t sit through the two-hour school board meetings or cover the football game or write our stories. Reporters do that, and our staff turns their work into pages to print every Tuesday afternoon. Our staff tucks ad flyers into the weekly paper, bundles them up for stores and labels them to send through the mail. Every weekly edition is its own creation, and we are proud to be the ones making it for you.

Thank you for your readership, your stories, your ads, your loyal support. Buzzerd & Frey had it right in 1893 – none of this works without our friends and partners. We’re still in it as long as you’re still with us.