The Jemez Thunder published its last edition on March 15. It had been community newspaper for Jemez Springs and nearby villages.
The closing of the paper and the retirement of the editor had been announced before the virus emergency, but the actual date came shortly after New Mexico’s stay-at-home order. In that respect, it may have been a particularly good time to go out of business.
You’ve probably never heard of the Jemez Thunder. Neither had I, until a friend who lived in Jemez Springs told me about it.
It led me to think about local newspapers and the vital role they play in every community.
The newspaper had started in 1995, publishing every two weeks. The original editor, Kathleen Wiegner, died in 2011, and her husband Robert Borden took over. In announcing the closure, Borden wrote that there had been 589 issues over 25 years, and he was the only person who had worked on every issue.
Among the articles in the last issue:
• Tied Village Council Election Decided by Coin Toss.
• Many Business Closures in Jemez Due to Coronavirus.
• First Butterfly Sighting of the Year.
• Editorial: “Enemies, Foreign and Domestic.”
• Four Obituaries and a New Baby.
The butterfly article said, “The first butterfly sighting of 2020 was in the center of Jemez Springs on March 6, despite a temperature of 56˚. It was a Sara Orangetip, a small white butterfly so-called because of the bright orange tips of its forewings.” Clearly this newspaper had a personality.
As with most community newspapers, this one was supported by its advertising. In small towns, local advertising is not only the lifeline of the newspaper. It’s also essential to the businesses that advertise. It’s where the local grocery store or hardware store can tell customers about this week’s sales and specials, giving those stores of fighting chance to compete with national chains. It’s where the public can find out about property for sale and what is available for rent. It’s where local services from contractors to beauty parlors can let the community know who they are and how to reach them.
New Mexico is dotted with small community newspapers, some only in print, some only online. Some, like the Jemez Thunder, are unknown outside their communities.
They do the vital work of letting you know what’s going on locally, what decisions are being made by public bodies, what is closing, what is opening, who is filling the potholes, and who died. In ordinary times, most community newspapers are dedicated supporters of local high school sports.
Everybody’s giving lip service these days to the need to save small businesses. Community newspapers are a vital part of that effort. Small businesses need a place to advertise that everyone in town will see. That’s part of the newspaper’s role. It has never been more vital than it is right now.
Last week 60 members of the United States Senate, including New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, recognized the critical role of community newspapers by signing a letter asking the federal Office of Management and Budget. The request was to support local newspapers and broadcasters by purchasing federal advertising in community media.
Many years ago, my first editor told me that the basic job of the community newspaper was simply to report what happened. Even for mundane events like Town Council meetings, if the newspaper didn’t report it, the citizens would most likely never find out, because they count on the newspaper to tell them. Yes, every citizen could go to the courthouse and look up the minutes, but most don’t have time.
Another newspaper has a minimal presence in the Jemez Springs area and maybe it will expand. In the alternative, the last issue of the Jemez Thunder contained a call for volunteers to keep the newspaper going. I wish them luck.
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