September 28, 2022

Kenneth Tingley read the newspaper before his parents got to it — first the funnies, then sports, then, as he grew up, the news. When his dad brought home the New York Daily News each evening, tucked into his lunch box, “Every day, I would devour that.”

Tingley grew up and became a journalist. When, in 1999, he became the editor of The (Glens Falls, New York) Post-Star, he started writing a regular column explaining what went into the coverage decisions at the paper. 

Tingley kept that up for 21 years, and those columns provided a roadmap for his new book, “The Last American Newspaper,” which was published by McFarland. 

In the preface, Tingley writes:

“The Last American Newspaper” is not a concept to be taken literally. It is a metaphor for the hundreds of community newspapers all across the country now struggling to survive.

I have used my experiences at my own newspaper—The Post-Star in Glens Falls, New York—as a way to tell the story of how community newspapers made their cities and towns better by sparking debate and discussion as a way to address community problems and concerns while also celebrating their successes.

Using my 21 years as editor as a time frame (1999–2020), I have chronicled the

events and issues my community faced as they happened. The story of The Post-Star is not unique among community newspapers. There are hundreds of publications like it that made the same kind of impact. Sadly, there has been less and less in-depth journalism over the past ten years as newsrooms staffs were gutted after advertising revenue declines.

Who is going to do the journalism in the future? It’s a question every citizen should be asking.

The book chronicles the news in Glens Falls, how it got made and who made it.

At some point, The Post-Star had about 50 people on the editorial staff. The day after the 2019 election, Tingley had to lay off four people at the paper, owned by Lee Enterprises. 

“I found that to be just devastating,” Tingley said.

That took the paper down to 10 staffers. Tingley went home and told his wife he’d had enough. The next person to leave would be him.

He retired in 2020. The Post-Star now has seven editorial employees. 

“The book is a love letter to newspapers,” Tingley told me.

It also sounds like an SOS to communities, I suggested. 

He agreed. 

In the book’s final chapter, “The Last Year,” Tingley writes:

By December 2018, President Trump’s “fake news” mantra had trickled down into the vocabulary of local politicians, while the comments and emails from our readers often accused us of bias and partisanship. Earlier in the year, five newspaper employees were killed at the Capital Gazette newspaper in suburban Maryland by a disgruntled reader.

It had been a difficult year for journalists.

I wrote at the time: “It often felt like I was on the front lines of a war where truth was being held hostage.”

The very real strains of layoffs, corporate consolidation and meddling and political partisanship are part of his story, but Tingley spends the majority of the book focused on the work, the people, and the impact it made in Glens Falls.  

Tingley writes:

…As was so often the case during the 21 years I was editor of my little community newspaper, it was a reader who lifted me up.

It was the day after Christmas 2018 and our receptionist told me there was a woman who wanted to see me.

I was busy and expected she had a complaint, but as was the case more often than not over the years, when someone demanded to see the editor, I got up to face the music. It was part of the job.

“You’ve been at the newspaper a long time,” the woman began. 

“Thirty years,” I answered.

She hesitated, her eyes darting left and right as if concerned someone might overhear her in the lobby. She paused again, seemingly struggling to find the words.

“Your articles give me hope,” she said staring back at me.

I was at first relieved, then speechless.

It was a reminder why so many of us are in the news business; why we remain committed in the face of adversity, and of course it reminded me of the power of the printed word. We may not be changing the world every day, but giving our readers a little hope is a good place to start.

 

This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter devoted to the telling stories of local journalists

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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