This is National Newspaper Week, and I can’t help but think what newspapers have meant to me through the years.
When I was a kid, our town had two newspapers – a morning and afternoon paper – but I don’t remember a local weekly paper anything like The Star. Of course, we also had only three TV stations and no internet.
But the newspaper was critical. Everyone subscribed, and everyone read it. Except for Walter Cronkite on the 6 o’clock news, our newspaper was our only window into the world.
When we first moved to South Carolina, we subscribed to the Aiken Standard, the Augusta Chronicle, the Augusta Herald (the Chronicle’s now defunct afternoon paper), The State and the Aiken County Rambler, a small, short-lived weekly newspaper – and a little later we discovered The Star. That way we kept up with local, state and national news.
But it was probably not until I began working for The Star that I truly appreciated what a community newspaper means to that community.
The Star has been “North Augusta’s hometown newspaper since 1954.” I’m not sure there are many people left who really understand exactly what that means.
I have never lived in any other community that enjoyed the luxury of a newspaper that is dedicated almost exclusively to that community. For example, while the Aiken Standard is a local newspaper for all of Aiken County, it also includes articles that give some national and international news.
From the beginning, Star owners Sam and Mim Woodring were focused only on North Augusta, limiting news outside North Augusta to those things that directly affected life in North Augusta. School news was limited to Area 2 schools and Area 2 sporting events. Government news only covered City Council (and things like North Augusta Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals, Belvedere Fire Commission, Belvedere Rescue Squad, etc.). The Religion page concentrated on what was going on in North Augusta area churches. Social news included brides and students whose parents lived here. In short, as local attorney Kelly Zier said at the City’s 100th anniversary in 2006, “For the last 50 years, The Star has been North Augusta’s own history book.”
And to a great extent, that continues to be true.
Sam and Mim sold the paper to Aiken Communications (parent of the Aiken Standard) in 1998, and I became the news editor shortly thereafter. And while the world of newspapers has changed dramatically in the last 20 years, the long-established mission has not changed substantially.
In 1954 The Star became the community bulletin board, the community champion and the community conscience for North Augusta. In 2019 The Star is still the place to find out what's happening and what our residents are thinking and doing. It's still the place to learn who's getting married, who's taking the Jackets to victory on Friday nights, who's going to college and where, what's going on in our local churches, who died, who was born, who got arrested and what City Council is planning for our future. The Star is the place to discover something you may not have known about your neighbor or a new business or a special cause, calling your attention to the needs and wants in the community. (Case in point, The Star has chronicled each step in Community Ministry of North Augusta’s Forward in Faith capital campaign, just as it has done for many local projects through the years.)
Yes, some things have changed. The look of the paper has moved from an oversized tabloid (smaller and more compact than most daily newspapers) to a true tabloid (the same size as a daily paper turned on its side) and finally to a broadsheet (the same size as the Aiken Standard) in 2004 (during our 50th anniversary).
The relationship with the local daily paper has meant we have access to the latest technology, as well as the wider news resources of a bigger paper. When I started working for The Star in 1986, I had a computer at home. The Star did not. When Sam and Mim retired, within a year we had moved from cutting and pasting strips of typed copy on mock pages to producing the paper entirely on computer. That meant sharper looking print, better photo resolution and lots more color.
But again, the content was the same – “all the (North Augusta) news that’s fit to print,” to paraphrase Alger Hiss.
We now have a website where the paper's stories can be read online. Just as in days gone by, we still look to our readers for help. A small weekly newspaper depends on a certain amount of submitted content. The Star staff is small, so we depend on you to share photos and information when we can’t get to your church event, civic organization’s activities, garden club, women’s group and more.
As in the past, The Star publishes a number of columns each week that reflect the interests and feelings of some folks among us. Our local schools continue to send in regular submissions.
The difference is we now receive those submissions through e-mail and through our website in addition to snail mail, calls and drop-ins.
As newspapers have dwindled in readership, The Star has, in many ways, grown even more appreciative of our readership and their value to us and to North Augusta. The paper is now provided free to many North Augusta homes in an effort to reach greater readership.
And though today there are many, many resources for information online, The Star continues to be "your hometown newspaper since 1954."