Time was, community newspapers had their offices right on Main Street, USA, with a newspaper press thundering in the back room like a locomotive train chained to the floor.
Sadly, in the last 30 years we’ve seen all that change.
for instance, when I came back home to Chapel Hill in 2001, Our Town had all of the above. But look at the Chapel Hill News office now. I dare you to find even find it. Relegated to an anonymous office out in some obscure cookie-cutter business complex miles from the historic downtown. And its newspaper press? — dismantled, sold off and shipped to who knows where. Corporate says it’s a cost-cutting move. But I say it’s cutting off your nose to spite your face.
So when the Roadshow cruised into Roanoke Rapids, we were in for a pleasant surprise.
Smack dab on main street in the middle of town, there was the Daily Herald building with an honest-to-god newspaper press cranking out the morning edition.
You could smell that thing the moment you hit the front door.
Steve Bouser, former editor of the PILOT of Southern Pines, who used to lead journalism workshops in Russia, told me how he once walked into some newspaper office in Siberia, and was forcibly struck by the sweet oily smell of the oh-so familiar.
It was the newspaper press in the “back-shop,” as the newspaper production area is called.
I’ve had the same experience 8,000 miles away in China.
“A rose is a rose is a rose,” wrote the Bard. Likewise with a newspaper press. To old newsies like me and Steve, that unmistakable aroma is like mother’s milk, a warm embrace, a call to home – no matter how far we may roam.
One of a kind
The Roanoke Rapids Daily Herald, owned by Wick Corp. of Arizona, is only one of two Wick papers east of the Mississippi, and therefore has a high degree of autonomy – and frankly, the feel of an indie – at least to me.
The J.L. Stainback family started the Herald in 1914, and ran it until selling to Wick in 1947. Ten years later, the new owners built the current newspaper building, and to this day, the office retains that era’s ‘50s look and charm.
Publisher Titus Workman, a West Virginia native (Marshall U.) and six-year veteran at the Herald, is bullish on the paper and the Roanoke Valley, explaining, “Roanoke Rapids is the neatest place that is overlooked in North Carolina.” And of the paper, as he flips through the pages, “All color, on every page!” he says with pride.
His staff is a good mix of veterans and newbies, led by Managing Editor Matt Lindberg (U of Kansas) and going on three years at the Herald; News Editor
Tia Bedwell, the voice of experience in the newsroom with 27 years at the Herald; Staff Writer Kai Huang (App State) two years; and Staff Writer Gareth Farrell (Arizona State) one month on the job.
Titus praises his newsroom leaders Tia and Matt as being “good at mentoring new reporters.” And that’s another one of my litmus tests for a good community paper — to what degree is it a “teaching newspaper?”
When it comes to understanding their role in the community, you get the feeling that the entire staff of the Herald is fully on board. As the papers were being inserted and bundled there in the busy noisy pressroom, Circulation Director Kristal Murphy told me point blank, “This is a small rural community; we don’t get a lot of coverage from WRAL or radio stations. So we are it! We are the official news outlet of the Roanoke Valley.”
An as such, their 7,000 circulation daily (except Saturday) involves distribution to 40 racks, 70 dealers and home delivery to 5,000 subscribers, reached by 33 carriers and 54 separate routes.
If the paper doesn’t hit the street by noon, Kristal says “readers scream!”
On this Roadshow visit, the entire Herald staff, from front office to pressroom, pitched in to do some teaching of their own. We brought along on this workshop two of our talented Durham VOICE teen interns, Gwen Payne and Lamon Jones, who got a full immersion into newspaper production, as we arrived that morning just as the Herald was going to press.
From pre-press to plate-making to loading the press to the actual firing up of the big Atlas Web Leader, our two high schoolers got to see it all. The churning roaring thrumming sound of a newspaper press in full throat is impossible to replicate in mere words; suffice it to say, it’s sweet music to my way of thinking.
Forgive this old publisher if I’m waxing poetic, but I couldn’t help wipe the silly grin off my face as I watched Titus, Matt and Tia go over the freshly printed copies churning off the press, still damp with fresh ink — and our teens’ look of amazement as they witnessed something for the first time in their lives.
Thank you, Titus and friends, for an unforgettable Roadshow visit to the Roanoke Rapids Herald.