By Adam Stone
When launching The Examiner, our first of four local community newspapers, in September 2007, Barack Obama was still a junior senator from Illinois, “Celebrity Apprentice” host Donald Trump was nearly two years from his first Tweet (about a forthcoming “Late Night with David Letterman” appearance) and Lehman Brothers was still a year away from filing for bankruptcy.
Hey, Angels star Mike Trout was just a teenager playing high school baseball in Millville, N.J., Netflix snail-mailed its customers DVDs in red envelopes and the iPhone was a months-old product.
As for Examiner Media, we barely had a website, let alone any social media accounts.
Lots has changed over the past decade, in media more than most industries. But one constant that endures – proven by The Examiner’s loyal readership the past 523 weeks – is the quenchless thirst by the public for responsibly reported local news. In today’s world, where critical coverage of a presidential administration gets labeled “fake,” when the very notion of fact and truth faces relentless attack, the importance associated with publishing professionally gathered local news that people can trust is elevated to an even higher plane.
From area elections, school budgets and land deals to zoning changes, crime news and debates over Main Street development, our central duty is to report the news so residents of our communities can possess a common set of facts, enabling them to engage in intelligent debate.
That all said, it’s not all so serious minded. As our motto goes, Small News Is Big News, and we continue to take pride in spotlighting local Little Leaguers, photographing parades and profiling everyday people. From New Year’s Day newborns to centenarian birthdays, it’s a particular privilege to highlight local stories that might not otherwise be told.
Newspapering in the 21st century
In an age when traditional media outlets can admittedly get scooped by the average Jane or Joe posting to social media, it is even more essential to maintain high standards, even if it sometimes means not being first. Citizen journalists and civic-minded residents of all stripes have an important role to play in communicating information. But the professional newspaper journalist must embrace the best of the print tradition, carefully sifting through rumors to arrive at facts.
That’s even more crucial in an era when everyone can be a publisher at the click of a button about gossip overheard on and offline. As the saying goes, it’s better to be second and right than first and wrong. And when mistakes unfortunately but inevitably happen despite the best of efforts, publishing corrections and apologizing for errors immediately and without hesitation is of paramount importance. We try to hold elected officials accountable but we’re accountable to the public, too.
From a personal standpoint, in reflecting over the past decade, my overriding emotion is one of deep gratitude. The business was built on the backs of countless people fulfilling thankless tasks. Naming specific names most responsible for the successes is fraught with peril, with a list of literally thousands who have contributed and a list of a dozen or so who played a particularly unique role. For the latter, hopefully private communication will suffice. But, with all that in mind, there are four people I think require a special and public thank you.
My sister, Laura Markowski, our associate publisher. Laura runs the oft-forgotten but vitally important administrative side of the operation. When people ask how we’ve had some good fortune over the years, it’s tempting to focus on the content we produce. But Laura’s near flawless work and unmatched efficiency is a primary secret to our success.
The volume of tasks, large and small, involved in running the administrative side of four newspapers and a news website borders on the ridiculous. To have someone so capable and so trustworthy captaining that ship is invaluable. Perhaps most importantly, she makes many of us laugh every single day. Given the nature of the business, doing so is practically a prerequisite to maintaining some semblance of sanity through the array of new fires in need of extinguishing on a daily basis.
To my father, Peter Stone, the CFO and my sounding board. A business owner himself for more than three decades, borrowing ideas from his experience has been priceless. He also inspired my love of newspapers. As a kid, over breakfast, we would talk about world events written about in that day’s paper. It instilled in me a deep sense of reverence for the role newspapers can and should play in our civic lives, and, by extension, our communities, right down to our kitchen tables.
And even though my dad and sister were not yet working with me at the very start of the company, I’ve felt their presence from the beginning.
Thank you to Alyson Stone, my wife. There was that first tense week, with Alyson arriving home from work with our then six-month-old daughter to a group of people laying out a newspaper on her dining room table. And there is now, tending to our wonderful daughters on Labor Day morning as I write this piece.
Without Alyson’s love and support, 10 weeks wouldn’t have been possible, let alone 10 years.
And thank you to the inimitable Martin Wilbur, The Examiner’s workhorse editor-in-chief from day one. Words can’t describe the unending level of respect and admiration I have for Martin’s tireless work ethic and unflinching integrity. Martin’s precise moral compass is so often my guide, and I’m forever grateful for all I’ve learned from him over the past 15 or so years, first when I was a reporter and he was an assistant editor at a different newspaper, and now in our current roles.
Some journalists have spurts of great work, flashing brilliance now and again, trudging their way through the rest of the year. Martin is different. He’s the elite marathon runner, not the sprinter, showing up and doing the job with grit and determination and deep caring each and every week, always competing to his fullest in the exhausting race.
In The Examiner’s debut editorial, headlined “A Contract With Our Communities,” we stated our mission:
“We’re here to publish community newspapers,” it began. “To tell you what’s happening within the corridors of your village or town hall. To tell you what’s happening within the doors of your school buildings and within the lines of your athletic fields. We’re here to write true stories.”
We’re still here, still vying to live up to those lofty goals, still examining your communities. More than anything, it’s a testament to you, the reader, and your passion for local news. So, to put it simply, thank you for everything. Keep on reading and we’ll keep on writing.
Adam Stone is the publisher of Examiner Media.