“Did you get your letter yet?” my mom excitedly asked me on the phone. “I sent you something. Did you get it?”


“Well, I’m still at work, Mom,” I said, “but I’ll be sure to check the mail first thing when I get home.”


“Ok, but let me know as soon as you get it, alright?” she quickly responded.


“Yes, Mom, of course.” 


I did get her package that night when I got home from work, and included in some various things she mailed me was a newspaper clipping of a photo, six columns wide by about five inches deep, from our hometown newspaper.


The photo was a shot of a group of people, including my mother, who all live at an assisted living facility in the town in which I grew up. The group was sitting on a patio outside the building, watching a parade of antique and muscle cars go by that was hosted by the local car club as a sort of “pick-me-up” for the residents who don’t have a lot of freedom to come and go yet because of the COVID pandemic.


It was that photo that my mom was so excited about when she called me. She was so utterly proud to have “made the paper,” as she described it, both because of my career in newspapers, but also because of the prestige her generation still holds about getting their photo in the local paper.


When I called her back that night after receiving the clipping, she could hardly contain her excitement that her newspaper clipping was now prominently displayed in my home office. Joy might be the best word to describe her emotions.


Later, after we hung up, I took a photo of the clipping and posted it in a Facebook group that I have built just for our family. With eight siblings, and 70-some grandchildren spread out across the country, this is a convenient way to share news about our big brood. Well, after I posted the photo in our group -- cleverly named “The Brookston Times” in honor of our hometown paper which is called “The Crookston Times” -- I had two other people ask to see if I could get them a physical copy of the paper so that they too could have the actual newspaper clipping of our mom’s photo. I called the Times, and they obliged, mailing me copies of the paper.


And that, I think, is the power of the community newspaper.


I’m certain that the photo my mother was in appeared on the newspaper’s website, but knowing that would mean zero to my mother. She doesn’t understand that medium, and it will never hold a candle to the prestige of appearing in the actual printed newspaper. 


And while my sisters could log into Facebook everyday and view a copy of that newspaper clipping in our family group, that wasn’t good enough either. ... They had to have a copy of the actual newspaper to hang on their refrigerators as well. They wanted to proudly display their mom’s photo in the newspaper too.


Now, before you get the wrong idea, I am not a luddite, pining for the ol’ days when newsprint was the only game in town. I will admit that I’m a bit nostalgic for my past newspapering days as many in our industry are, but that’s not my point.


My point is: That after viewing several prominent industry articles this past week about the growing number of news deserts across the country, we need to continue to tout stories such as mine to foster in new generations the feeling of prestige it is to “make the paper.”


It seems that our audiences, thanks in part to social media and also to changing views about the media, have forgotten the excitement of seeing their photo in the local paper. And worse yet, many communities are losing their papers altogether, and so they’ll never know that feeling of pride again. 


But there are many readers who haven’t forgotten, and that includes my mother and sisters.


It seems an uphill battle to get readers to again appreciate seeing their family, friends and neighbors in the local paper, when so much of our business is dependent on a digital future. But I wonder if it wouldn’t hurt to remind folks again of the joy they feel when they see a friend’s baby announcement, or engagement photo, or retirement ad … or a photo of that smiling waitress who worked at the local cafe for decades like in the case of my mother … in the paper.


So, as I sit here at my desk, enjoying the photo of my mom in our hometown paper, I admit that I don’t know what the equivalent description of “making the paper” will be when so many of our publications are dependent on a digital future. … But maybe we ought to dream up a public relations campaign that reminds our audiences that it is the local newspapers that captured these emotional moments for generations, and that we still are.


And whether it’s in print, or on the web, it is pretty dang cool when the local paper publishes a photo of your mom!


Devlyn Brooks is president of Modulist, a media services company specializing in the processing of user-generated paid content submissions for newspapers. Devlyn spent 20 years writing and editing in newsrooms big and small, dailies and weeklies.