Barry Smith: Newspapers are cornerstone of the community

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Before there was a state of Nevada, there were newspapers in Nevada.

They arrived in Virginia City and Genoa along with the miners and shopkeepers. The first newspaper is thought to be the Gold-Canon Switch in Johntown, a settlement in Gold Canyon about four miles from Virginia City.

The Switch was handwritten and delivered weekly about 1854 in what was still Utah territory. It was pretty easy to start a newspaper in those days. In fact, as Jake Highton wrote in his history of Nevada journalism, "it was easier to start a newspaper in a hamlet than it was to find a doctor living there."

It's even easier to start a newspaper today. With a computer and Internet connection, you can be publishing in a matter of minutes. Heck, you don't even need paper.

The hard part, of course, is longevity.

The Gold-Canon Switch didn't last long. Then again, neither did Johntown. But around Nevada, some communities and their newspapers thrived.

In the capital, the Carson Daily Appeal first published in 1865, the year after Nevada statehood. The Nevada State Journal (1870) and Reno Evening Gazette (1876) combined nearly 30 years ago.

The Record-Courier traces its roots to the Carson Valley News in 1875. The Sparks Tribune is 102 years old. The Las Vegas Review-Journal's origins go back to 1909.

Nevada has its share of ghost towns and ghost newspapers, too. A good many started in boom times and didn't survive the busts.

What's clear to me, however, is the long and crucial relationships between communities and their newspapers. It's a complicated one, to be sure. Newspapers are sometimes boosters and sometimes critics - often on the same day. They have a responsibility to be both leaders and watchdogs, and they are the ongoing chronicle of their communities' history.

During National Newspaper Week (Oct. 7-13), the theme is "Newspapers: The Cornerstone of Your Community." It's an important reminder how these publications - in print and, now, online - help to shape the places we live. In many instances, they are the longest-running business in town. They provide jobs and create a marketplace of both goods and ideas.

These relationships are the reason the Nevada Press Association each year celebrates its Community Service awards, recognizing the projects undertaken by newspapers to improve their communities.

They can be tough investigative series, such as the Las Vegas Review-Journal's "Deadly Force" stories about police shootings there. Or they can be insightful, far-reaching projects such as the Lahontan Valley News' coverage of Nevada soldiers in Afghanistan. Both won our top awards this year.

It's hard for me to imagine what our business may look like 100 years from now. If history tells me anything, though, it's that strong communities need strong newspapers as their cornerstones.

•-Barry Smith is executive director of the Nevada Press Association, which was founded in 1924 and traces its roots to 1888. He is a former editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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