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Editorial | A loss for the News, a win for news

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One of the most challenging things about working as a writer for a small-town newspaper is actually living in that same small town.

It can be difficult to maintain the distance required for reporting when the things you cover affect you just as deeply as they might affect your readers — your neighbors, really. You need to be able to, at least to some extent, become an observer rather than a participant. That can mean squelching your own feelings about a situation.

But not every news story requires this kind of distance. When those stories come around — the kinds you can pour not only your mind into, but also your heart — it becomes very clear how being a participating member of the same community you write about is also a blessing.

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I was reminded of this truth in late March, when Cheryl Durgans, Jessica Thomas and I represented the News at the Ohio News Media Association’s annual Osman C. Hooper Non-Daily Newspaper Competition awards ceremony in Columbus.

I like going to the Hooper Awards for two reasons: First, they always feed us. Second — and perhaps more salient than the food, but who can say? — is the chance to talk with other reporters and editors of small, weekly newspapers. We share our struggles, our worries. We share jokes about the trade. Importantly, we share trips to the taco bar.

The main things I don’t like about the Hooper Awards are the awards themselves, which always make me nervous. For the last 12 years, the News has had the great honor of winning the Newspaper of the Year Award in our circulation division. When you go on winning something for that long, if you’re anything like me — that is to say, perennially anxious — you can’t help but wonder when the other shoe is going to drop.

This year was the year of the drop.

While it was disappointing for sure — I feel like my fellow reporters have done some incredible work over the last year — it was also something of a relief, if I’m honest. A certain expectation — at least amongst the staff of the News — has been lifted. It just gives us something to work toward next year.

And I couldn’t have been happier to learn that the award went this year to the Archbold Buckeye.

For those who don’t know, Archbold is a village in Fulton County, not much larger than our own. According to their masthead, The Archbold Buckeye publishes weekly on Wednesdays with a handful of part-time and freelance staff and a full-time staff of just two: News Editor and Publisher David Pugh and General Manager/Publisher/Copy Editor/Advertising Director/Sports Writer/Photographer Mary Huber.

It was Mary I congratulated after the Newspaper of the Year award was announced; she was flitting around to everyone, handing out newly designed Archbold magnets — one of which now hangs on the fridge in the News kitchen. Still basking in the glow of her paper’s win, Mary took a few minutes to tell me about the weeks-long news coverage that helped clinch the award for the Buckeye.

It all started when Fulton County band Girl Named Tom — siblings Caleb, Joshua and Bekah Grace Liechty — were selected to appear on NBC’s 21st season of “The Voice.” Naturally, their hometown newspaper covered their audition, and then their acceptance onto the televised musical competition.

The Buckeye proceeded to cover each weekly appearance on the show, as Girl Named Tom won challenge after challenge, vote after vote. Other Ohio newspapers, including the Columbus Dispatch — and even national news outlets — became interested around this time, but the Buckeye already had them beat for reporting.

Pretty soon, the whole community in and around Archbold rallied behind the band; in a genius piece of advertising, The Buckeye partnered with the local Farmers & Merchants State Bank to create newsprint posters that local residents and businesses could hang in their windows to show support for Girl Named Tom.

And they did, en masse.

So invested was the community — and the staff of the Buckeye — that, during the final episode of season 21 of “The Voice,” when everyone in town was anxiously watching to see if Girl Named Tom would win, Mary was able to convince their printers to hold the presses so they could include the contest’s results in that week’s paper.

When Girl Named Tom won the 21st season of “The Voice,” Mary said she allowed herself a moment to cheer, then called up the printers — who told her they already knew, because they had been watching, too.

Mary showed me the window posters the Buckeye had printed. Sucker that I am for a good happy cry, I felt my eyes well up: The poster included pictures of the band members not only as the young adults they are now, but in their younger years in school plays, band concerts, piano and choir recitals and sports games. Every one of the photos had come from the Buckeye’s archives — because, as their hometown newspaper, the Buckeye had already been following and supporting Caleb, Joshua and Bekah for years.

With respect: Beat that, Dispatch.

I could go on at length about why this story matters to me personally, why I hope it matters to you.

Instead, I think I’ll just end by saying: Congratulations again to The Archbold Buckeye.

And thanks for reminding me why I love this job.

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