We have filled the pages of this newspaper, magazines, brochures and books on the sensation that “Home Town” has been. This city has benefited directly, of course. But there’s a bigger picture here beyond Ben and Erin’s super success on the small screen.
Maybe a new movement has been launched with the perfect storm of their hit show and the pandemic in the air at the same time. People learned over the last year that they don’t have to stay in a metropolis to do their jobs. There’s a much better quality of life in smaller towns. It’s way more cost-effective and way less restrictive, which is why people are leaving New York and California in droves. Their state lines look almost as bad as the Mexican border. Why? Because, like the illegal aliens, they can’t wait to get to America.
It’s sad that it took something like COVID-19 to make our people open their eyes, but maybe some good can come from it. If people realize they can still have a good life — a better life, even — raising their family in a smaller town, they will benefit and America, in turn, will benefit. We are the backbone of the country, even though the arrogant ones in the media and elites view us as “flyover states.” We hope they keep flying over.
The movement toward small-town America has been clear among “Home Town” fans, but when the Napiers were featured on CBS Sunday Morning last month and credited for helping launch a nationwide movement, that made me swell with pride. Their efforts — and the efforts of partners Jim and Mallorie Rasberry and Josh Nowell, speaking to and offering their template for success to Main Streets Associations across the country — is making a difference.
Just look at what the Napiers did in Wetumpka. Not only did they save that small Alabama town, it’s bursting at the seams, according to tourists who have stopped by our office after going there first. Amazing.
This is something I’ve been pushing for a long, long time, but my column doesn’t carry the weight that a hit TV show does. The arrogance of elites has always been a source of frustration for me, as evidenced in this excerpt from a 2016 column:
Several years ago, when I was sports editor at The Vicksburg Post, I was in Chicago at an Associated Press Sports Editors’ Convention. We were in a bus on the way to a shindig when a well-known scribe from Boston condescended to engage me in conversation. He asked where I worked, and I told him. He asked the circulation, and I told him 15,000 or so. That was, no doubt, the smallest of the papers at the national convention.
I’ll never forget his response: “Well, all of us have to start small. Just keep at it and you’ll work your way up one day.”
My response wasn’t as strong as it should have been. I just said something like, “We can still do good, quality, meaningful work at small papers, and provide local historical context to our work. That perspective is so often missing in smaller papers because of the attitude that bigger is better, so they just keep leaving, trying to climb. That’s silly because the pay raise they’d get in a place like Boston would be absorbed by the cost of living. I’m content where I am.”
His look was the same one my springer spaniel used to give me when she heard a high-pitched noise. Then it seemed like he might pat me on the head, call me Sparky and tell me to go out in the yard and play.
I wish we could have the same encounter today. My response would be something like, “You arrogant SOB. While you big boys are sinking, those of us in community newspapers who have kept the focus on providing readers with stories they can’t get anywhere else are thriving. Thank goodness I didn’t chase the bright lights or I’d have a dark future right now.”
The buzzword in our industry today is “hyperlocal.” Report the news that hits people in their backyard. Do stories that the readers can’t get anywhere else. Make your product useful and unique. That’s what we strive to do every edition. Instead of mass layoffs and downsizing (which has happened at metro papers across the country and corporate-owned “community” papers near and far), we have added employees. That’s virtually unheard of in our “industry.”
We’re also more of a force in our readership areas than they will ever be again. Sure, they have higher circulation numbers, but the percentage of potential readers who pick up their product — known in our industry as the “saturation rate” — is a fraction of what ours is.
Facts like that don’t matter to old-line guys like my buddy on the bus, though. That’s obvious by the attitude you see in the newspaper folks on the Sunday morning political shows. They still talk as if they’re important and have influence.
Also in recent weeks, I’ve seen something else happen in our state that I’ve been pushing for at least 20 years — for local/state governments to give the middle finger to federal funds.
My proposal was for public school districts to tell the federal government they don’t want or need its funding, thereby asserting their independence from all of the craziness that has been instituted into the Education Industry. It’s a small percentage of the budget anyway, and as the saying goes, the feds get $100 worth of control for every $1 they send — and the majority of the money goes to fund programs and guidelines that are mandated by the federal government!
That independence would be a draw for a large number of parents who still believe in public schools, I’m sure, but too many people who are entrenched in the Education Industry and state government are addicted to federal funds. They get a case of the vapors at the mere suggestion of losing those dollars.
But in recent months, there’s been a shift. Republican governors across the country — including our own Tate Reeves — said “no thanks” to extra unemployment benefits that were keeping people on their couches instead of at work. Those extra benefits dry up today (Saturday), and will likely boost the economy and bolster the independence of the states who gave the feds the finger.
Now, take the next step and just say no to federal education funds.
Mark Thornton is editor-in-chief of the Leader-Call. Email him at