I celebrated two years of working at the Chieftain earlier this month, two years that have been full of lessons, challenges and lots of green chile cheeseburgers. Those two years have gone by very quickly.
When I started at the Chieftain, I had no plans to become a newspaper editor, but a few months later that became my job title, and it has been an honor to steward this institution. I feel fortunate to have spent two years at a local newspaper with a healthy readership, regular advertisers and a first-rate staff—not to mention getting a chance to run the oldest weekly newspaper in the state of New Mexico.
Newspaper editor is one of those romantic sounding jobs that characters in romcoms always have. Actually count the number of romcom protagonists who are professional journalists—it’s weirdly high. Somehow the romcom characters attend fewer public meetings than real-life newspaper editors, and you almost never see them answering emails or formatting photos, or doing wrist stretches to avoid carpal tunnel. But the real-life perks of newspaper editor are pretty great too—a chance to direct coverage, to work with great reporters, to build a newspaper every week, to meet people and hear their stories, to cover elections and schools and businesses.
Next month, I will be hanging up the mantle of editor and trading it back in for reporter. I’m headed north to work at the Albuquerque Journal.
Our next editor will be the very savvy, very kind Jay Ann Cox. She hails from Texas and brings a wealth of writing skills, along with a sharp eye for edits.
Thank you for sharing your stories with me. Thank you for letting me become a part of this community. Thank you for subscribing, for reading, for advertising, and for telling us when we got something right or wrong.
Newspapers are institutions that rely on their readers, advertisers and communities to function. Without a readership, without people buying ads, without people willing to share their stories, there is no newspaper. You the reader are part of this paper. You will keep it alive, and I am hopeful that El Defensor Chieftain will keep covering Socorro County for the next 100 years.
Local news in New Mexico is faring better than in some other parts of the country—something I would attribute in part to so many papers with in-state ownership, with publishers who live in New Mexico and care about New Mexico. We’re also lucky to have more than one quality nonprofit newsroom operating in the state. The many rural areas with poor internet connection may also have helped keep print newspapers in business.
Still, the newspaper industry as a whole continues to be a kind of wild west, with a print advertising model that has proved its value over more than a century of business, but a world of websites and free content, misinformation that spreads like wildfire, social media companies and self-made promotion and stolen newspaper copy posted in online screenshots that makes it more challenging to turn a profit than it was 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Not to mention that collection of very large, very for-profit companies that run (and sometimes shutter) more than half of the small local papers in the country.
Whether they are in print or online, newspapers still serve an important function.
According to the Columbia Journalism Review, studies suggest that “a lack of local media coverage is associated with less informed voters, lower voter turnouts, and less engaged local politicians.” Local government borrowing costs have also been shown to significantly increase in counties that have experienced a newspaper closure.
As I prepare for my last Chieftain issue next week, I am thinking about the long-term future of this institution. I hope that it outlives me by a couple hundred years. I think that the community this paper serves is crucial to its survival.