Thursday, May 22, 2008

Twin dailies in Illinois recognized for helping their towns work together for economic development

Newspapers can play a key role in getting communities in their region to cooperate on economic-development efforts, and one that does that in Illinois was recognized this month for its efforts.

The Journal Gazette-Times Courier, of Mattoon and Charleston, won a Business Ethics and Social Involvement award from the East Central Illinois Development Corporation, which covers nine counties. Publisher Carl Walworth is at right in the photo from his paper, with Charleston businessman and Mayor John Inyart, left, and Jim Ryan, a civic volunteer from Marshall.

The Lee Enterprises paper was nominated by Scott Lensink, President of Lake Land College, who said at the awards banquet, “The Journal Gazette and especially its publisher Carl Walworth have really helped to bring Mattoon and Charleston closer together.” The towns are eight miles apart. While the newspapers are actually zoned editions of the same paper, the Journal Gazette remains identified with Matton and the Times-Courier with Charleston. Editor & Publisher lists them with circulations of 9,668 and 6,166, respectively; their Web site gives higher figures and says the combined circulation is 18,322. For more about the papers, click here. For their story on the event, by Managing Editor Bill Lair, click here.

Rural entrepreneur Jack Schultz wrote on his Boomtown USA blog, "Having observed Mattoon and Charleston from 30 miles away over the past several decades, I couldn’t agree with Scott more. One of the problems that I’ve observed of sister cities like Mattoon and Charleston is that they spend way too much time fighting each other rather than trying to figure out how best to work together. The local newspaper, especially under the leadership of Carl Walworth, has tirelessly championed a togetherness approach through such efforts as a quarterly leaders' breakfast for the entire county, a program to recognize young leadership in the county, a program to recognize volunteers, and several other innovative programs."

Schultz writes that Walworth was a journalist "and wasn’t necessarily the logical choice when the longtime publisher retired. However, under his leadership I’ve watched in awe as he has taken a very positive approach to reporting news and promoting the region. The example of the transformation of the Journal Gazette led by Carl is a lesson that other local newspapers would do well to study if they hope to positively impact their region. Virtually anyone who is looking to move to a town (business, doctor, professional, etc.) is going to subscribe to the newspaper prior to making the decision to move."

Schultz says sensational reporting of crime can create the wrong impression and suggests taking it off the front page. We can't agree with such a blanket rule, but there are good journalistic reasons, not just good community-development reasons, to make sure such coverage is measured in a way that accurately reflects its importance to the community. We would also add that newspapers that fall short on grammar, style, spelling and even presentation can create a bad impression, too.

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