Reporter& Farmer

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Newspapers play important role, have impact in the communities they cover

Last weekend I was given the opportunity to attend the joint convention of the South Dakota and North Dakota newspaper associations in Deadwood (thanks, John and LeAnn for sponsoring the trip). While some might think a two-day event filled with meetings on industry topics is boring, it’s just another part of being in the newspaper field I’ve always really enjoyed. I like that it gives me deeper insight and inspiration into how I might better do my job as a weekly newspaper journalist, serving my community through the venue of a newspaper.

It’s been two years since those in the newspaper industry met due to COVID so the anticipation for a good convention had been building and I wasn’t disappointed. This year centered around the themes of recognizing and encouraging one another towards the integral role a newspaper plays in their respective communities, of providing “institutional memory” of the places they cover. As was pointed out over and over during the convention, I’ve always been a champion for the fact that a newspaper captures the first draft of history and that it plays a lead role in record-keeping events on behalf of those who live within its coverage area.

The longer I’m in this industry, the more connections I acquire throughout the state, the more I realize how small the world is. I pondered that as I listened to a presentation by retired SDSU professor and Bristol High School graduate Dr. Lyle D. Olson. During the convention, he was presented the Distinguished Service Award by Beau Ravellette of Ravellette Publications, the SDNA immediate past president (and relative of Webster local Matt Fosness). There were several other mentions about Webster and Day County – such as the fact that television journalist and author Tom Brokaw was born in Webster – as well.

Olson shared about his 40-plus years of teaching journalism, admonishing journalists of the Dakotas to pursue truth and that the First Amendment must remain our clarion call. Olson is owed a huge thanks for his work to preserve the integrity of journalism. Having taught journalism in China, he said he’s probably still on a list over there of people they don’t like very well. Before and after his presentation, I also had the opportunity to talk to him about how he has navigated a secular world while walking out his Christian faith. Looking back over his career, he told me, “It’s all God.”

I also found particular inspiration from the speech by 2020 South Dakota Hall of Fame Inductees Charley and Norma Najacht, former owners of the Custer County Chronicle and the Hill City Prevailer. Norma told the story of Bobby, a young man who got himself into trouble as a youth and who later turned his life around but was struggling. Norma covered the story of his follies and later had the opportunity to write about his turn-around, which resulted in the community rallying in support. Through that story, she illustrated the power newspapers have in making a difference in the world.

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