I love getting the local paper. I don’t know if I’ve ever derived a useful piece of information from it, but there’s something cozy about living in a place where the news is dominated by the achievements of high school students and bean suppers.
Oh yes, you heard me right. Bean suppers. There are four separate bean or spaghetti or turkey supper listings in this latest addition.. You know what matters to my town? Knowing where to show up to eat with the community.
And the kids: Story after story about the kids who made the honor roll, the kids who volunteered their time to do something kind, the kids who excelled in the arts and athletics and academics. The kids who joined the military. The kids who are getting married. The kids who have been lost to some awful tragedy. The kids who have traveled across the world and brought their stories and pictures back for the entire town to learn from.
There’s another page, too, of course: the police arrest log. If anyone were to dig into half of these entries, there’s probably some compelling reading in there. People get busted for sex and drugs and violence like anywhere else and the information is there. And if a keen investigative reporter were to go digging, I’ll give you 10-1 odds that hiding somewhere in the town there are problems of the sort that crop up in a Stephen King novel. The existence of some hidden corruption in town officials or business leaders of influential citizens isn’t a bad bet: the same principle of psychology that makes people bad at making the more productive choice in the prisoner’s dilemma is that same principle that makes people take underhanded risks to give themselves a leg up from time to time, and I’m not so naive as to assume it’s not there just because no one is writing about it in the monthly paper.
This sets up an interesting question for me, from a writer’s perspective. I’m not a reporter for a really good reason: I find human interaction stressful under good circumstances, which means that I’m especially bad at confronting people when I need to push for information. But I did my time on the college paper and sat through many conversations about the role of the press in exposing problems and keeping people honest, so I look at the sunshine and rainbows of the town paper and wonder what it’s not saying. What unpleasant stories are they failing to tell? Should I be wishing that the paper was run by someone who was more up in arms about fixing whatever problems we don’t see? Am I guilty of turning away from the unpleasant truth when I’m glad to see page after page glowing with parental pride in the kindness and cleverness of the kids who have grown up running over the collective edge of our lawns with their bikes?
All the same, it’s nice to live in a place where we spend our print space on praising young people for what they’re doing well and planning to get together for baked beans and pie.