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A Fond Farewell to a Community Friend

Read it and weep:

“The Gazette newspaper in Montgomery and Prince Georges counties will print their final edition June 18 after 55 years of publishing.”

 

Those two lines appeared in a story in the Washington Post on Saturday – or maybe Friday.  Everything comes out online first, so you don’t really know anymore.  And more and more everything is being read online only anyway, which is another reason the end came for the Gazette.

 

The Post actually owned the paper and tried to sell it, but couldn’t make it happen.  These are not good days for any newspaper, much less one that is delivered for free.  The print advertising the Gazette relied on has gone mostly to social media.  Financially it just didn’t make sense anymore to keep it running.

 

Maybe for you, the Gazette was just something you had to pick up on your driveway every Wednesday.  Perhaps it went directly to the recycling bin.  I read it.  Not page by page, but there was always something that caught my eye that I couldn’t get anywhere else.  And it gave me something that’s hard to find when you live in a large metropolitan area – a sense of community.

 

The Gazette didn’t just cover the counties of Montgomery and PG, it was divided up into papers that covered the towns of the counties.  I received the “Rockville Gazette.”  Even after my kids had long graduated from Wootton High School, it still made me feel good seeing a photo of an athlete from Wootton or a story about one of it’s students achieving something great.  I’ve often said on the air that there are weeks where I never leave Rockville.  I’ve liked having a newspaper that covers an area where I spend most of my time.

 

The closing of the paper will cost 70 people their jobs, including Kent Zakour, who covered Montgomery County sports for a decade.  On finding out his fate, he tweeted, “We are all out of a job.  Such is the life of journalism.”

 

He’s right about that, I can tell you firsthand.  More than 30 years ago, I was called to a meeting with 35 of my co-workers to be told that the radio station we worked for that did news and talk was changing formats to oldies and we were all out of a job.  But there were other stations on the dial doing what we were doing.  Listeners who liked news and talk had other places to go.  The Gazette is not replaceable.

 

Six years ago, Kent did a story on my son’s youth league baseball team.  At that time, he and his teammates were getting ready to graduate high school.  What made their team a story was that they had been together since they had played tee ball together in first grade.  With very little turnover, essentially the same group of kids played fall and spring seasons together the entire time they were growing up – over a decade.  On top of that, the same dad, who had twin sons on the team, coached every single game.  It was a nice feel-good story and it was local.  For the final team party, we had the article framed with pictures of the team through the years surrounding it and presented it to the coach.  Unlike some Internet story that floats away into cyberspace, that will endure forever.

 

Yes you can call me an old fart.  There he goes again, railing about how things aren’t as good as they used to be.  Okay, but consider the words of a 29-year-old journalist, who’s plenty upset about this.

 

Brian Stetler, who grew up in Damascus (that’s mentioned on his Wikipedia page, right after his date of birth), is the senior media correspondent for CNN and host of “Reliable Sources.”  He previously covered media for the New York Times. Stetler got his start in high school at the Gazette and wrote on his CNN blog:

 

“By writing for it, the Gazette helped make me into a real reporter; by reading it every week, the paper deepened my affection for the town where I grew up.  It didn’t matter that the newspaper only reached 5,000 readers.  What mattered is they were the right 5,000 – the business owners, the teachers, the pastors and the townsfolk who made Damascus a place, not just a pit stop on the way to Mount Airy or Gaithersburg.”

 

Everybody and everything is replaceable.  Just about everything.  After next week the Gazette will be gone, taking with it more than just a free newspaper.

 

 

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