The Sort of Thing that Matters Outside the Big City
Folks who work for Big Media in such places as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., tend to think their outlets produce the only news that matters – or at least the only stuff that is interesting. So, every once in a while, it’s helpful to get out into what people elsewhere in the U.S. regard as real America to see what folks are really concerned about.
I just got back from a few days in Moab, Utah, where I came across a most intriguing weekly paper (and it’s actually a newspaper, though it also boasts a website). This was the March 31-April 6 edition of what was flagged “Moab’s Un-News” on the outside, but which admitted to being the Moab Sun News on an inside page.
The cover page included a most illuminating piece on how Utah Gov. Spencer Cox plans to stave off the drying out of the Great Salt Lake by distributing absorbent garments to residents that are designed to collect bodily moisture. Once filled with sweat, the garments will be squeezed directly into the lake. “I just hope the folks down south are wearing their deodorant,” one lakeshore denizen was quoted as saying. “I’m afraid the water will be too stinky for us to boat in.”
Another piece told of how tourists would be shuttled away from such sites as the [incredibly stunning] Arches National Park and brought to Moab businesses so they could “watch skilled dishwashers do their thing, or even shadow the housekeeping staff in the hotels they’re already staying in!,” one county official said. This piece was headlined “Economic De-Diversification efforts begin, Tourists forcibly funneled to local businesses.”
Of course, this was an April Fools edition (as the editors acknowledged in small print above their ersatz flag). It was the sort of spoof that no serious-minded urban paper could pull off, but which works just fine in a town of 5,462 residents (and many more visitors). It’s a reminder that not all the news needs to be deadly serious (and indeed far too much is).
Inside, the editors promised that “the rest of the content in this paper is as truthful as we can make it.” And, indeed, there were legit stories, such as one on the city’s budget (suggesting it could be problematic because revenue would be $2.3 million short of what departments asked for) and another on a school district nurse who helped to get needed shots for unvaccinated children whose families were short on money or transportation. A feature profiled a local nonprofit that provides science education and outreach programs.
Another intriguing feature discussed a most peculiar phenomenon – an academic piece from www.theconversation.com that reported the finding by researchers at Wayne State and Auburn universities that female Airbnb hosts in the U.S. on average earn 25% less than their male counterparts. The average nightly rate of a female host’s listing was $30 cheaper than those of male hosts, the researchers reported. And this was so even though women made up 53% of hosts and had slightly more valuable properties than male hosts. The authors didn’t explain this discrepancy, but they suggested that other research found that men typically negotiate for higher pay than women and in professional fees, women tend to set lower rates.
Not only was the piece interesting in its own right, but in Moab, where Airbnb places are popular, it might have prompted a few women property-owners to up their rates. (Because I was staying in an Airbnb there, this might not be something I’d particularly like). The paper included plenty of other items of local interest such as community events, a bit of history, area sports, and a surprising number of obituaries (which, I recall from my days writing obits at a small New Jersey daily, are among the most-read sections of any local paper).
The Moab Sun News, I learned from its website, is now marking more than a decade of providing local news and material that would interest Moab residents. The paper is free, though readers on the site are asked for monthly donations of $3 to $25 or one-time donations of any amount. The paper distributes news through a weekly print edition, email newsletters, its website and social media channels.
“We are committed to helping residents get involved locally through civic engagement, publicizing events and promoting an inclusive and passionate community,” the paper says in an “about” section. “Our journalism responds to your questions and priorities and our community’s pressing needs.”
It notes that its small staff collaborates with a local radio station, KZMU, and several other outfits, including Science Moab, The Moab Museum, the Grand County Public Library, the Utah News Collective, High Country News, Writers on the Range and the Corner Post.
I learned in a quick Google search that the paper’s editor-in-chief and owner, Maggie McGuire, bought it in 2021. She had been hired as managing editor there in 2019 after freelancing a while for the paper. Earlier in her career, she led digital strategy campaigns for nonprofits. Her work drew attention on CNN, Bitch Magazine and the Rachel Maddow Show.
According to the NewStart Alliance, both her parents worked for their hometown newspaper in Michigan. Her great-grandfather also ran a newspaper.
NewStart, as I also learned in a Google search, is a local news ownership initiative, created by West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media. It collaborates with the West Virginia Press Association. The outfit’s mission is “to recruit, train and support the next generation of community news publication owners and publishers across the country.”
McGuire was a fellow at NewStart.
“I’m excited for all the ways the paper can expand the sense of the community, (showcase) itself as a viable business, but that it also is a social good and serves a social purpose,” she told folks at the outfit. “It’s really cool. We’re not just selling burgers, so that’s rad. I’m 100 percent getting to live my values, and that’s awesome.”
Indeed, local newspapers may also sell burgers – or, at least, their advertisers do – but they are essential and terribly endangered as newspapers around the country disappear. May the Moab Sun News live long and prosper — and keep its sense of humor.