Sometimes I think we need to change our motto to "Go Big Or Go Home" because we simply cannot do anything small.
Take our new Alumni Spotlight Series. It all started with a suggestion from Janice Mosel. “What about a series on Orchard alumni?” she said. It sounded like a great addition to the Orchard page of our newspaper, and I immediately agreed to add it after the first of the year.
I started reading bios from past alumni banquets and was simply amazed by what I read. That's when it hit me — why limit this to only Orchard graduates? So we've decided to open up the series to all of Antelope County.
To make this a success, we need your help with suggestions. If you have an Antelope County alumni — alive or deceased — who is deserving of a story, please contact us with details. Call 402-887-4000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We kicked off the series this week with a feature story on Lloyd Porter, a 1942 graduate of Orchard. I called Lloyd's son, Jerome, last week, and he was thrilled to have his father be our first story. Jerome's stories about his father gave me goosebumps.
And then I found a 2006 interview with Lloyd on the Library of Congress' website. That was simply priceless. To hear the stories in his words, in his voice, was incredible. We heard lots of great comments about Lloyd's story.
Sharing that story was the perfect way to kick off this series. We have hundreds more bios from Orchard graduates, and we'll continue sharing their stories each week.
But, again, we want to open this up to all of Antelope County. Brunswick, Oakdale, Tilden, Royal, Neligh, Clearwater, Elgin. Take a moment and call us with details of someone. Send us an email or private message.
We want you to be a part of this alumni series. Let's remember together, whether it's a graduate of 1942 or 2001.
To submit an alumni suggestion,
I was on the phone last week with an old friend of mine, Jeff Steffen. He and I worked for the same family in Norfolk for years, and we’ve remained good friends.
Four days a week, we record a “Week In Review” from our four counties to air on WJAG radio. Considering our relationship, I had no hesitation in asking Jeff if we could reprint a story WJAG ran on a Neligh-Oakdale graduate, giving full credit to his sports director as the writer.
Jeff agreed instantly, and we published it with Joe Tjaden’s byline.
You also may have noticed last week that we ran a story originally printed in the Tilden Citizen-Meadow Grove News. We also ran a photo taken by The Elgin Review.
We didn’t hide either and proudly put their names on both items.
This week you’ll see some of the same ads in our newspaper that are running in the Verdigre Eagle and the Tilden Citizen-Meadow Grove News.
Why am I telling you this? Because it’s important for you to know that we can — and do —amicably work together.
One of my favorite lines from “Grey’s Anatomy” is, “You’re not the enemy. You’re just the competition.”
I believe that competition makes everyone better. I believe rural media are working harder than ever before because of us, and that’s a good thing. Everyone is getting better, and you receive better products.
But being competitiors doesn’t mean we are enemies. In fact, we have great relationships with most media. We’d like to have great relationships with ALL media and would welcome opening lines of communication with everyone.
But to do that, we need everyone to stop treating us like we’re the enemy. Remember the Golden Rule.
With that, I wish our readers, our advertisers, our competitors and even those who consider us an enemy, a very Merry Christmas.
Ever wonder what the difference is between watchdog journalism and someone on a hunt?
Well, you should. Because there is a difference.
The role of a watchdog is something those of us with journalism degrees take very seriously. We've been trained for this and know the ethics involved, as well as the proper procedure. Without that expertise, it would be like having a serious illness and choosing a neighbor who seems to know a little bit about medicine over a licensed doctor.
A watchdog not only goes to meetings and reports on them but also fact checks public officials, public records, how tax dollars are being spent, if proper procedure is followed, etc. A lot of time can be spent digging through documents, researching policy and interviewing officials to get the truth.
A watchdog journalist then presents those findings and has the documentation to back it up. It's straight forward, unbiased and accurate. There is no spin or agenda.
But a journalist on the hunt for corruption spends their time creating issues. They make news out of nothing for the sake of having news. That's not reporting, much less being a watchdog. That's tabloid journalism.
In small towns, there are always interesting issues with city councils, school boards and other organizations. There are real issues and real people trying their best - nearly all are volunteers - to better their community.
Do mistakes happen? Of course. Is there corruption? Unfortunately, sometimes there is. There have been cases of embezzlement and misconduct, and those stories get discovered and reported. Watchdogs discover what is going.
But those situations are rare. There actually are a lot of really great things happening because of these volunteers. Take for example the housing studies going on right now in 10 local communities. These studies, which are being paid for by grants, will potentially lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars toward housing rehabilitation right here in our area.
We've been watching these studies closely. We've also been watching these organizations just as close. Because that's what we do. We watch and report back to you what is going on. If there are inconsistencies, wrongdoings or issues, we hope to find them.
Basically, we watch what is happening for the public and accurately report these events. We aren't on the hunt for corruption that isn't there, and we don't "spin" news to suit an agenda.
I'm proud to say we practice watchdog journalism.
Since the election is over, why would this newspaper publisher share her opinion now? Because it shouldn't be shared before people vote.
Leading up to Tuesday's historic vote, every major newspaper proudly endorsed candidates. Whether it was for president, senate or even mayor, newspapers across the country told readers who they were supporting in the 2016 election.
It happens every election cycle and has for years. But it shouldn't happen at our level. Support your community. Support your country. But newspapers in small communities should not support a candidate or ballot issue.
Can a reporter, editor or publisher of a small publication have a personal opinion on an issue or candidate? Absolutely. But you don't print it. You don't let your personal opinion interfere with your profession. It's a line that shouldn't be crossed. After all, there's a reason Ethics In Journalism is a required class for journalists.
Major newspapers can ethically endorse candidates because they separate their editorial department from their reporters. For example, the Omaha World-Herald has a large enough circulation to allow for a separate editorial staff to endorse a candidate and not fear its content will be affected.
In smaller publications - even those with thousands of subscribers - the editorial writer often carries a reporter's pen. And those publications should not endorse candidates. I also believe those publications should not donate to a candidate or a ballot issue campaign.
It does happen, and it's happened here. It is both irresponsible and unethical for someone to donate to a campaign and then write stories about the topic or candidate. It's also unethical for a candidate to use a media they own for their own candidacy without allowing the other candidates the same opportunity. Is it illegal? Unfortunately, there are no laws against it. But it is unethical.
How, as readers, can you not question the motives of that newspaper, considering they have publicly given funds to a specific campaign? Or that they flaunt themselves as a candidate or what they will do if elected? Credibility does not come easily. It's earned, not gifted.
So does being a media in a smaller community mean that an individual cannot share his or her opinion? No, not at all. But you don't put your opinion in your publication. You don't allow content to reflect your opinion.
Honestly, I smile when people assume I feel this way or that way about an issue. They're often wrong, and that means I've done my job. The story printed does not reflect my personal opinion on a candidate or ballot issue.
Do people still question motives of our publication? I'm sure they do, and, honestly, that's perfectly fine with me. Someone concerned about their community will always read closely what is being printed, and we welcome that scrutiny. We're not perfect and will make mistakes, but we'll own up to mistakes and always strive for accuracy.
Now the election is over. So what's my opinion on it? It's simply that smaller newspapers that do not have a separate editorial staff should never endorse a candidate nor should they donate to a ballot campaign. It's a line that should never be crossed.
We owe that to our readers.
As for how I voted or what I supported . . . . we have a lot of growing to do before I'm separate from our reporting staff. And you know how I feel about that.
I’ve heard for years that newspapers are dying, and, frankly, quite a few are. That’s probably what has made so many people scratch their heads and wonder what we had up our sleeve by purchasing a newspaper.
When we launched the Antelope County News online, no one really knew what to expect. Even I didn’t predict we would explode into a major media with such a following. Quite honestly, I don’t know if our readers even comprehend what we’ve built.
If you didn’t know already, I’m a data geek. I watch the numbers and know where media stand. I’m proud to say we have created a website with a consistent engagement ratio that only a handful of others in the entire state can match or beat every week. Our numbers really are that good.
So after creating what my friend, Mike Flood, calls “an empire,” we decided to purchase The Orchard News newspaper. And it was a good move. I told Allen Beermann, executive director of the Nebraska Press Association, my goal was not to have the newspaper survive, but to have it thrive.
We started with a dwindling subscription base. Six months later, we’ve increased subscriptions and our over-the-counter sales 89 percent. That’s right - an 89 percent increase in six months. And we’re still climbing.
We added color. We updated the design. We added county-wide content.
And we’re about to add even more changes. You’ll see a few different aspects this week, but more and more will come in the following weeks.
Much of Page 2 previously was filled with Orchard content. We’ve shifted that to Page 3 and moved the church directory. You’ll notice we’re adding more church listings, too, from other communities in the county. We don’t charge the churches for these because we think they’re newsworthy. After all, shouldn’t people know where they can go to church?
Our sports and school content has dramatically changed as we’ve expanded to cover Antelope County. We now feature great color photos of teams and games, which we’ve heard time and again has improved county-wide support of local athletics and schools.
Speaking of schools, we added a weekly feature called Kid Scoop that is aimed at promoting literacy and education. We’ve been planning this since July and are very excited to be adding content designed specifically for youth with the ability for businesses to sponsor classrooms. More kids will be reading the newspaper and reading what’s going on in Antelope County.
And, yes, there is more to come. More changes. More improvements. More. More. More.
I can’t help but laugh when I hear that some longtime newspaper people are still “wondering what we’re up to.” Well, we’re up to old-fashioned journalism in a modern world. We love working with other newspapers and media and do so on a regular basis. We love covering local sports, local school events, local businesses and local people.
To quote one of my favorite movies, “You can either get busy living or get busy dying.” We’re busy living . . . and busy changing. Look around and you’ll see others are starting to change, too. And those are the newspapers that are living.
We could write a book on the ups and downs that have followed in the six months since publishing the first edition of our newspaper. It's been six months this week.
The expansion came with a lot of changes as we broadened the reach of The Orchard News to include the Antelope County News with the desire to serve the entire county.
It's been an adventure since Day 1, to say the least. Change can be scary, but also very exciting - especially when you have so much support.
We were very open with former owners John and Lucy Ferguson about our ideas. They have done nothing but encourage us, and that means more than we could say. The owner before them, Janice Mosel, has been a gem as well. She's offered advice, suggestions and, best of all, support.
We've had current and former publishers and editors of nearby newspapers offer words of wisdom, too. The newspaper business is a family, and it helps that I've been in that family for a couple of decades now. After all, who says you can't go home?
And the community support from across the county has left us speechless. The communities have welcomed us with open arms.
Looking back, what has been the biggest change since we purchased the newspaper? Is it the beautiful color every week? The updated design? The news coverage of the entire county?
Those external changes are fantastic and have clearly impacted our spike in subscriptions and over-the-counter sales as we have welcomed hundreds of new readers. Neligh, Clearwater, Tilden, Elgin readers - welcome and thank you for your subscriptions.
We appreciate your support. That $31 a year may not seem like much, but it's helped us grow. You are making a difference in rural media.
As far as internal changes with our newspaper, you may not know they exist, but they have made a huge impact in local media. It's cooperation and collaboration.
We have a motto at the ACN - be kind, no exceptions. That's why we work so often with other media. We even share ads - with no commission fees. If a business advertises with us and asks us to send the ad to another newspaper, we do just that. And we don't charge that newspaper for the ad or include hidden fees the business doesn't know about.
Our "treat others the way you want to be treated" attitude has been welcomed with open arms from all of the media we work with on a regular basis. We're colleagues, and we treat each other with respect. It really is that simple, and I'm thrilled that the media we work with regularly have the same values.
We don't believe in segregation among media. Whether it's newspapers, digital, radio, TV - we can all work together. We don't see other media as competition, and that's probably the biggest change we've brought to the table. We are partners. We work together to be better.
What's the benefit to that? You're seeing it every day right here on the Antelope County News and in our newspaper. And the numbers don't lie. You have helped make what could be a little media in Antelope County, a major media of Northeast Nebraska in less than three years.
Where will we be in another three years? The sky is the limit.
But of everything we've seen happen in the last couple of years - especially the last 6 months - it's your support that is the greatest reassurance that change is a good thing.
You are reading the ACN - and all of our sites - more and more every day. You are purchasing our newspaper. You are watching our videos. You are turning into the TV broadcasts.
Change can be scary sometimes, but refusing to change is even scarier.
From all of us with Pitzer Digital, the Local County News team and The Orchard News, thank you for your support and continuing to roll with us as we change rural media.
When Antelope County is in your name, it's a given that county fair coverage is a top priority. But what really makes me proud is that 4-H remains the focus of our coverage.
We had eight staff members covering the six-day fair because there was so much going on, and if you look back at it, I hope you see what I do: 4-H, 4-H, 4-H.
To us, that's what a county fair is really all about. Sure, the grandstand events, like a concert, help draw people, but you can't lose sight of the 4-H program that the six days are built around. I use the term six days lightly, though, because it really takes a year of planning to make those six days click.
With the Antelope County Fair now over, we started putting together a special section to showcase the results and efforts of the 4-Hers. I apologize in advance if we missed something because we worked really hard to fit in as much as possible and dedicated hours and hours into typing results and combing through photos.
As the only newspaper in the county printing in color every week, it was a no-brainer for us to publish the entire section in color. Yes, all 20 pages are in color. Yes, that's an expensive undertaking, but well worth it in our minds because it's such a huge aspect of our county news.
The section has photos from the grandstand events, which were a lot of fun. We enjoyed them all, so thanks to the Antelope County Ag Society for working so hard to put those on events and still keeping the fair's main focus on 4-H.
But most of the section is 4-H results and photos. We thank all of the participants, their families and countless volunteers for their dedication to the program. Tessa Hain works so hard in the extension office and really outdoes herself every year. She really does an amazing job and is so humble about her role.
With fair week over, we all know what that means. It's time to start thinking about next year. Here at the ACN, we've already started making notes about what we can improve upon for 2017 coverage. After all, we're not the Antelope County News for nothing.
For a recap of the Antelope County Fair, please pick up a copy of our newspaper this week with the 20-page, full-color special section highlighting the week's events. There's a sales rack in every community in the county, along with our offices in Neligh and Orchard.
The idea of youth crushing Smarties and smoking them was terrifying to me, but that didn't make it any easier in deciding whether or not to assign the story.
On one hand, parents needed to be warned that this fad was actually happening right here in Antelope County. But on the other hand, would broadcasting it backfire and lead to more youth trying this?
I wrestled with that dilemma. Unsure of how to proceed, I called Neligh Police Chief Mike Wright. We talked for quite a while and weighed both sides. He agreed the risk of introducing it to some was a legitimate concern, but we both decided that if it was already happening here, then many kids obviously already know about this while their parents may not.
We talked about the crushed candies slicing a person's lungs like razor blades and how maggots can grow in your nose after inhaling the powder. The images are disgusting -- and also terrifying considering this is an innocent candy thrown out at every parade, offered at many offices and available at nearly every grocery store around.
In the end, the benefit outweighed the risk in my mind, so I assigned the story to Jaimie Schmitz. We published it as our lead story in our newspaper this week and posted it online today here. Within a few hours, it's reached about 10,000 people.
I've read the comments on the story and Facebook shares. Parents are as disturbed by this as I was, and they're talking to their children. They're opening that line of communication, even if it's to say, "I know what these can be used for, so don't you dare try this."
That's 10,000 people who may not have known smoking smarties can be lethal. Hopefully, we just kept a few kids from trying this and opened up the line of communication between them and their parents.
Views From The News
Carrie Pitzer is an award-winning writer, photographer and designer, and also serves as publisher of the Local County News sites. She earned a BA in Journalism from Midland Lutheran College with an emphasis in News & Editorial.
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