Emus Loose in Egnar: Big Stories from Small Towns. By Judy Muller. University of Nebraska Press, 2011, 246 pages, $24.95.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There is nothing quite like a small town newspaper. In a day when larger dailies are shrinking in circulation numbers and advertisement revenues, many small newspapers still retain a loyal reading audience. So says the author of this often amusing book "Emus Loose in Egnar."
Author Judy Muller is an associate professor in the Annenburg School for Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California.
Her book sparked fond memories of writing for such small journals as The Eastern Shore News, where one could read the attendance reports of some local congregations, and possibly what the minister talked about at Sunday worship. A young minister could write his very own occasional column, without anyone from the editor's office getting on his case.
As kids in South Carolina, four of us owned our own tiny newspaper. It was called The Palmetto News and covered our housing development, Palmetto Gardens. Sixty-four years ago we got 3 cents a copy, and evidently the readers liked our local journalism because the paper sold well, and each of us made a share of the receipts. Three of the four of us still are in touch, and correspond now and then.
I was forever hooked on the small news sheet.
In my summer stays at my Uncle and Aunt's rural home, I would settle on the porch swing and read two small papers. The Rock Hill Herald was a daily paper. The Yorkville Enquirer was a weekly. Sometimes I would climb the stairs to the dusty offices of the Enquirer and watch the editor set type by his ancient Mergenthaler Linotype machine. Ah, the aroma of hot lead. Ah, the deafening sound of the mechanical typesetter. The news was mundane, and woebetide a writer who took a strong personal stand on a topic like racism in rural South Carolina.
For critical stands on controversial issues, I could open the Charlotte Observer and read what the big boys and girls were presenting.
It's not that the small paper sanitizes sad stories. But, there are times when local needs and a desire for compassion may simply report a citizen's death as just that, and not a suicide.
When my Grandfather Wallace died in 1934, the Yorkville Enquirer obituary noted that Mr. Wallace was a strong believer in a farmer living on the land, and not in town. Take that, you who live in luxury five miles from your property. Such a comment might not have made it in the Observer, which probably just noted this old gentleman's death after a long illness.
More power to such newspapers as the Concrete Herald in Washington State, the Tabor City Tribune in the Tar Heel State, and the Neshoba Democrat in Mississippi. Those of us who love West Virginia surely remember Jim Comstock's West Virginia Hillbilly.
Consider the tenaciousness of the editors of the Neshoba (Mississippi) Democrat who spent 41 years documenting the lack of progress in capturing the murderer of three young men who had demonstrated for racial justice. The two men who had been editors over those four decades could take some satisfaction in that the killer, a Klansman, finally met the full force of the law.
Posey, of Charleston, is a retired Presbyterian minister.