Editorial: Has it been five years already?

Five years ago Alex Paul wrote a goodbye column for The New Era and then, after 20 years of publishing the paper with his wife Debbie, turned it over to two younger people €“ my wife Miriam and me.

How time does fly.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since we snuck into town with a rental truck towing an old Ford Ranger pickup. I say “snuck” because our introduction to life in Sweet Home demanded some secrecy, since the Pauls were selling the community newspaper, and so we couldn’t really tell anybody why we were here.

You all found out soon enough, though, and it’s been a rollercoaster ride ever since.

We’ve had a lot of highs and a few lows along the way.

People frequently ask me, “So how do you like Sweet Home?”

My answer is usually, “I like it a lot.” Sweet Home, like every other community I’ve ever lived in, has its strengths and its challenges, but overall there are a lot more positives than negatives. And it tends to grow on you.

It’s no secret, particularly to anyone who has moved here, that it takes a while to find one’s place in Sweet Home. We have residents whose families have lived here for generations and, in some cases, have never lived anywhere else. So they have their circle of friends and their way of doing things and you need to pay your dues €“ prove yourself, as it were €“ as a newcomer before they really let you into their inner circle.

I get that. I have lived in small towns before and I anticipated this when we moved here. I’ve felt that folks probably opened up to us a little quicker in some instances than they might have if we hadn’t been running their newspaper, and I appreciate that.

I believed the day I got here, after 25 years of working as a newspaper journalist and journalism professor, that a community’s newspaper is different than other businesses. Yes, it is still a business and it has to make money to survive, but a newspaper belongs to its community and to its readers in a very real sense, unlike other businesses. A functional newspaper is a community organ. It plays a vital role in the day-to-day life of its community, representing its readers in its coverage of local government and schools and helping its readership identify with what is going on in the community.

We’ve tried to fill that role in the last five years. With the small staff we have, we can’t be everywhere, but if you missed the basketball game, you can see photos. If there was a fire, likely as not we were there and we’ll have some coverage. If your local government officials are doing something, one of us will write about it to let you know. We’ll even let you know what we think about some of the stuff that’s happening.

That’s what The New Era has been about for more than 80 years and that’s what we’ll continue to be about.

When I arrived, I had ideas for some changes to The New Era but I certainly did not want to make it look like we were here to throw our weight around and show everybody how it was done €“ particularly since a lot of people knew that our last stop was a much bigger community in Southern California. That’s not what we were about, then or now.

We have added a few twists, though, over the first five years and today we’re adding a little bigger one: a new flag on the front page.

When I saw The New Era, for the first time, on a trip through Sweet Home about eight years ago, I was intrigued by the nameplate, the colored pen-and-ink drawing of an old log truck rumbling through the forest to an old mill. It’s been The New Era’s “flag,” as we call it, off and on for years. I was at an event in Lebanon a few years ago and a guy walked up to me and told me he had the old carved woodcut that was once used to print the flag on The New Era back in the days before printing went electronic and digital, as it is today. Not sure why he was telling me this, I asked if he wanted to sell it, but he made it clear he definitely did not. It was kind of awkward and I didn’t get his name, but that kind of tells me how long the old flag has been around and how it got started.

We’ve decided to create a new flag for the newspaper for a couple of reasons.

One is that the old flag is a little out of date for what Sweet Home is today. Today timber is certainly still a very major part of what Sweet Home is about, but we’re also increasingly about tourism, taking advantage of other natural resources around us €“ the lakes, the mountains €“ things that weren’t as important in an economic sense back in the day when that old flag was created.

If you look at the new one on the front of today’s paper, you’ll see that the log truck is still there €“ except it’s a modern one and it’s rolling past the lake now.

From a visual standpoint, the old flag was a bit distracting to anyone who wasn’t used to it, like most of us were.

In our new flag, you will see some variations in future issues €“ slightly different colors, slightly different intensities €“ depending on what photos we use on the front page. So there, folks, courtesy of local artist John Wiens, is a little bit of a new look to help mark our completion of five years with The New Era.

It’s been a good five years. Running a weekly newspaper in a community like ours is definitely a lot of work €“ long hours, irregular schedules, constant multi-tasking €“ life is never dull.

We’ve seen triumphs and we’ve seen tragedies, the most recent being a few (to us) untimely deaths in the last two weeks.

You’ve made us welcome, really from Day 1. You’ve given us opportunities to get involved in the development of our

community into something that we all hope will be even better than what we have now. And five years from now, I hope The New Era will be correspondingly better too.