It’s appropriate, we are told and maybe even believe, to be in love on Valentine’s Day, but it is probably a bit unusual to be in love with a newspaper.
Well, I am, and proud of it, especially these days when we hear nothing but dirges for the newspaper business which ran its own self into the ground with preprints and abandoning local reporting, but that’s another issue.
My newspaper of choice is the Las Vegas Optic, a thrice a week little dandy that manages somehow to keep up the brio we used to expect from all newspapers.
Now, Las Vegas, New Mexico is no metropolis or tourist destination and does not wish to be; its slogan is “NOT Santa Fe.” With a population hovering under fifteen thousand in 2000, it lacks a lot of those things we consider essential, such as movie theatres, and now it is even losing its last dry cleaners.
“Parisian Cleaners Calling It Quits” a headline announces in the February 12-13 edition, under a photograph of Charlie Vigil, the owner, who started working there at age 22 for twenty dollars a week—“Everything was so hard then,” he is quoted as saying-—and bought the business a couple of years later and has been running it ever since, for sixty-two years. Now 84, he’s retiring and shutting the shop; everything he needs to operate—gas, cleaning fluid, utilities—has gone up and he’s losing $1000 a month.
The Optic editors must know their readers crave this kind of information which they will find nowhere else; the digitalizing of our sources excludes stories like Charlie Vigil’s.
The editors also know that “Looking Back” columns appeal to those who are of an age to look back, and to read: according to a column on Valentine’s Day, A Disaster Drill was termed “very worthwhile” in February, 1962, when Boy Scouts served as both injured and rescuers at the site of an imaginary Armory roof cave-in, and saw their names listed on the Optic’s front page.
And the run down of daily events—story time at the Carnegie Library, a town hall meeting, a writing contest offered by the Catholic Daughters of Immaculate Conception Parish and the Catholic Daughters Courts on the theme of “Jesus loves us. How do we spread the word?”—above an advertisement for “very affordable caskets” conveys about all townspeople need to know about present and future events. The casket, very black, does look enduring.
The lead editorial often takes courageous stands, as in this issue, when the editor upbraids the local community college for relaxing its nepotism rules, opening hiring to relatives of members of the board.
While admitting that the old rules were too restrictive, the editors state that the minute a trustee’s relative gets a job, now, everyone will assume the person is not qualified. “It’s unfortunate that no board member had the courage to stand up and say that the new policy is wrong.”
How often do we read that in The New York Times?
Then there are the obituaries which are often full of interesting details as well as long lists of the names of relatives; this is a family sort of place, where poverty and lack of what we commonly call opportunity doesn’t seem to fray the bonds or drive all the younger generation away.
And two full pages of classified ads.
And the cartoons that disappeared long ago from big newspapers, such as The Family Circus with its beamish kids from another time.
And a crossword puzzle that doesn’t require a Ph.D.
And two full pages of local sports.
And sometimes Art Trujillo’s column—in this issue, a meditation on cell phones, those devil devices that threaten to undo whatever feeble sense of community we are still able to maintain.
The Optic has it all, and I imagine its budget is slim and its profit margin slight. Why is it that the big boys of the newspaper world have never discovered this simple, eleven page formula for success?
Yes, I’m in love…
[Side note: as pointed out by R. Thomas Berner in the comments below, William Shawn, editor of The New Yorker got his start at the Optic.]