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Review: Life at a small-town newspaper — sound familiar?

  • Courtesy photo—



Wednesday, June 21, 2017 6:56PM

Editor’s note: Ted Leach will be at the Toadstool in Peterborough on Saturday at 11 a.m. to talk about his book “Extra Extra.”

What goes into running a small-town newspaper? As one who just writes a column, annoys her editors, and gets revisions in just under the wire, I have to say, “no earthly idea – but glad it isn’t me!” I do know, however, that a local newspaper is really part of the special glue that holds a community together. We go to our newspaper for all the information about the Monadnock Region, letting us keep up with what is happening in the local communities. And it is not just current Monadnock area residents either. I graduated from Peterborough High School, and recently at a school reunion, I was introduced to the girlfriend of a classmate I had not seen in over 50 years. The girlfriend looked at me and said, “Oh, the author, I love reading your column in the Ledger.” Naturally, I took to her right away (who knew Larry had such good taste?). For all of these years he has subscribed to our local paper and kept up with the news of the region. Yet, I have not seen him since we graduated - as he immediately moved to the Midwest. He stays in touch with his community by getting our local paper.

Others do the same, and while I like to think it is due to the unique and wonderful area where we are, the truth is that America is made up of many marvelous small regions and towns. For many of us the area where we grew up will always be home – and we continually want to be a part of that living community - even if we are far away.

Edward R. (Ted) Leach must feel the same way I do, because he has just written a delightful novel titled “Extra, Extra.” This rendition of running a newspaper is a fictionalized description of Leach’s experiences with the three weeklies he owned between 1979 and 1995. These were the “Monadnock Ledger,” the “Nantucket Beacon,” and the “McCormick (SC) Messenger.”

Leach’s novel is set in the 1980’s before the internet explosion and the toxic fake news and sound bites we are subjected to today. His book is still in the era of honest reporting and real news at the national as well as local level. The protagonist is Ed Remington who publishes the “Elgin Eagle” a hometown newspaper. Of course there has to be an antagonist, and the one that best fits is the local police chief. Months of covert investigation and collaboration with other reporters and police finally allows Remington and his staff to get the goods on the corrupt commander. This is only part of the novel, though. The daily work, drama, and trials of the staff along with the publisher as they interact with advertisers and the greater community comprises the larger substance of the story.

Teetering on the brink of the computer revolution, Remington and his people struggle with the beginnings of desktop publishing, getting the copy to the printer (in Massachusetts) and keeping things sane – every single week. Yes, the newspaper flourishes, the mechanical crises are barely averted, and the general tempo of the book left this reader breathless on many occasions. Although I noted some human adversaries in the novel (the police chief, a couple of advertisers, and one nasty reader); the real antagonist is time. There is never enough of it in the newspaper business. This is made clear by not only the often-high-speed vignettes embedded throughout the novel, but also the never-ending pace of Leach’s writing. This level of momentum really reflects the tempo a publisher must keep to put out a weekly paper.

Remington’s news team, also operating at the same velocity, still manage to always exude a professional demeanor and the desire to build a newspaper that has character and worth. While today many national and international news sources, as well as the internet, fail to reflect the values of good character, human worth, personal dignity, and honesty – our local newspapers still do. They are accountable to the communities they serve and as Leach’s novel repeatedly and often wittily illustrates, if a citizen is unhappy – the publisher will hear about it – often face-to-face and in a very public venue. Accountability remains in the small-town tabloids, and it is exemplified by the reporters and news staff as well as the readers who send in letters to the editor, stop the publisher on the street to “have a word or two,” or call in and leave a voice message. We might not be able to do this, and get a response, with a big newspaper, but we sure can with our local one!

This is Leach’s final message. The reporters and news staff that are involved in the local news business work the hardest, are still reporting the old-fashioned way – honestly - and are committed to the communities and region they serve.

I am typing this column on my very sophisticated desktop computer. It has speed and power. When I am done it will be sent as an attachment to my editor who will then try to make some sense of it. Corrections will be digital and fast, and the end result will be embedded into the correct format via very sophisticated desktop publishing software. Yet, underneath it all, it still starts with a man writing a story and a reader sitting down with a cup of tea, her cuddly Chihuahua, and a mission to enjoy that book from cover to cover. The good things never change – so keep reading!