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Community journalism remains focus

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By Barbara Rutledge

Several years ago, I participated in a job fair for graduating journalists at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Representatives from media outlets across the nation – newspapers, broadcast, television and public relation firms – also were there.

We were there interviewing and touting our businesses to the future graduates. I was there representing The Lancaster News and our parent company, Landmark Community Newspapers Inc. (LCNI.) As the day wore on, folks from the different businesses began to wander around the concourse talking to reps at their booths.

One man wearing a Los Angeles Times identification tag walked up to my booth and picked up The Lancaster News. He scanned the headlines.

“You know the future of the newspaper industry depends on papers like this one?” he said, holding up the newspaper.

“What do you mean?” I said.

He went on to explain that he had been with The Times for 19 years and he could see the “handwriting on the wall.”

“Daily newspapers are on the decline,” he added. “Community journalism is the backbone of newspapers.”

He was right. The community newspaper is where you are going to find out who was born, who married, who died, what’s going on in local government, scores of the local games, the ingredients of your neighbor’s favorite casserole and what’s on sale at local businesses.

That’s what we strive to do in every publication of The Lancaster News. It is also the philosophy of LCNI. Frank Batten Sr., founder of Landmark Communications, said a good newspaper should “mirror its community.”

Landmark Communications, a billion-dollar media company, owns the Weather Channel, Greensboro News & Record, The Virginia Pilot, The Roanoke Times and LCNI.

LCNI, headquartered in Shelbyville, Ky, has 54 paid newspapers in 13 states, 40 free newspapers and shoppers, 16 offset commercial printing plants, seven collegiate sports publications, and 30 special publications such as real estate guides and home magazines.

In South Carolina, LCNI owns The Lancaster News, Chester News & Reporter, Carolina Gateway and Pageland Progressive Journal.

Landmark Communications is a reputable company. It is privately-owned and not at the mercy of Wall Street fluctuations. In the past, Landmark has turned down several offers to buy the Weather Channel and Landmark properties.

“Every media conglomeration has approached Landmark, and there’s never been a yes,” said Debora J. Wilson, The Weather Channel’s chief executive.

That’s why it was such a surprise last Thursday when we were told that Landmark was considering selling its business.

While no one knows what this means for us at The Lancaster News and our sister papers, we do know that our commitment to our readers remains.

“A great newspaper is distinguished by the balance, fairness and authority of its reporting and editing,” Batten wrote in a memo for editors at Landmark papers. “The great newspaper will, by honest and intelligent journalism, inspire people to do better.”

The Lancaster News has tried to do just that. For 156 years this newspaper has informed, educated and entertained our readers.

And we plan to continue.

Barbara Rutledge is editor of The Lancaster News.