People don't realize what they've lost when newspapers die, retired editor tells Potsdam audience
Retired Glens Falls Post-Star Editor Ken Tingley spoke at the NYSUT building in Potsdam on Wednesday, March 22, to discuss the impact and importance of local newspapers. NCNow photo by Jimmy Lawton.
BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week
People don’t realize what they are losing when newspapers shrink or shutter.
That was the heartbeat of a presentation given Wednesday by retired Glens Falls Post-Star Editor Ken Tingley, who penned “The Last American Newspaper” and the “The Last American Editor.”
Tingley spoke in the New York State United Teachers building in Potsdam as part of the St. Lawrence County Democratic Committee Series “Elevate the Conversation,” which aims to engage the community and discuss important issues in a cordial environment.
The point Tingley seemed to make is that the impact local newspapers may have is hard to measure, but it should not be underestimated.
Tingley also spoke of an industry under fire, in which newspapers have been made out to be an enemy of the public via conversations on social media.
He shared stories of threats made to his office and unsubstantiated accusations of “fake news” hurled at organizations working to improve rather than hurt communities.
Tingley’s presentation was a love letter to the fourth estate, but also a eulogy to the glory days of bustling newsrooms that were adequately staffed to dig deep into real issues faced by small communities.
Tingley served as Editor of the Post-Star for 24 years. He’s even been honored by the City of Glens Falls with Ken Tingley Day.
Tingley shared stories of columns and stories written by himself as well as his staff that touched hearts, brought about positive changes in the community and in one instance brought a Pulitzer Prize to a small city. That’s a feat he says is simply not something that happens.
Among the stories highlighted by Tingley was a series written in the wake of a murder that stemmed from domestic violence.
It was a shooting in broad daylight.
And he and his staff realized that domestic violence was a long-standing problem that had never been properly discussed within the community.
Tingley and his staff ran a brief in the paper asking victims of domestic violence to share their stories, which were then highlighted in a series.
Tingley noted that the idea of asking people to share stories about the most horrific aspects of their lives was not something he thought would come to fruition.
However, victims did indeed come forward, told their stories and brought the true horrors of domestic violence to the forefront of the conversation.
Seven of the victims even gathered for a photo to accompany a front page story on the matter. That’s a move that Tingley was again surprised at, but believes it was a way for them to stand against their abusers and take back their lives.
He said what he saw in the later days of work felt like a war was being waged with the “truth held hostage.”
Indeed Tingley’s tales from Glens Falls are felt locally in St. Lawrence County.
Democratic Committee Chairman Michael Zagrobelny said that after reading “The Last American Newspaper” it was clear to him that so much of what Tingley wrote about was mirrored in our own local communities.
In recent years, many St. Lawrence County news entities have been struggling to stay afloat amid the sea change in advertising models, massive decline in retail store fronts and a public backlash against the industry.
The problem hasn’t gone unnoticed locally or nationally with thousands of news operations closing in recent years.
As for solutions, Tingley’s best advice was to “do something.” He encourages news operations to keep pursuing their goals, hold public officials accountable and shine lights on important issues in their communities.
Tingley briefly discussed efforts underway to keep the industry afloat including a move to non-profit models and New York State’s proposed “Local Journalism Sustainability Act.”
He said all avenues are worth pursuing, but was realistic in his expectations that such efforts would not solve all of the industry's issues.
In a recent blog post Tingley addressed the “Elevate the Conversation” Series as a local step in the right direction.
“Who will do the journalism we need to solve our problems? Maybe, events like this are a great first step. I’m hoping I can convince anyone listening that newspapers can be trusted. That they have the welfare of the community at heart. That they want to make a difference,” he wrote.
Tingley’s presentation seemed to resonate with those in attendance and that was the goal, according to Zagrobelny.
He remains hopeful that the Elevate the Conversation series will grow and is asking St. Lawrence County residents to help make that happen.
As for now he hopes St. Lawrence County residents will help shape the series by sharing what topics should be addressed and what speakers they might be interested in hearing.
Those interested can email suggestions [email protected] or call 315-244-5233.