By Clay Coleman
VANDALIA—What do you write about when you cannot find a story? I can tell you in the newspaper business, that question is harder than you think. Every morning you get a flood of updates and news releases; find the closest story to your town, write something up, then hit send.
It’s supposed to be easy, but in a small town, news releases only go so far. It does no good discussing that the governor will be in Columbia talking about the eastern spotted skunk when your readers want to know about X, Y and Z. Never mind a story on a new industry breaking ground, or the police cracking the big case. That doesn’t happen around here.
Around this time every year, in small-town newspapers across the country, you have a lull before the storm. The city council meetings were weeks ago. The rising stars at the schools have slowed down. You put away the decorations and letters from one holiday, only to figure out what you did with them for the next. Everything is quiet, as we take a breath and await the next big thing. The newspaper comes out every week. News waits for no one.
So I posted a question online. I asked the readers what do you write about when there’s no news? That’s a loaded question; there’s plenty of news out there, but is it information that the community finds necessary? Is it relevant enough to the readers as a whole? Maybe I should have used the adjective “newsworthy” instead. What do you write about when the story you have isn’t good enough? Here are some responses I received:
“I’d like to see more religious stories.”
Well, there’s Angel’s Celebration on Dec. 8, at 7 p.m. at Farber Baptist Church. A Christmas candlelight musical arranged by Sterling Holbrook and directed by Karen Holbrook; the event will be performed by Karen and Sterling Holbrook, Jerry and Jackie Ostrom, Linda, and Tom Prior, all from the church’s adult choir, with a devotional given by Rev. Jerry Ostrom. All offerings will be donated to the St. John’s Food Pantry. The public is invited to attend.
“Talk about what area merchants have to offer during the holidays.”
The Van-Far Craft and Vendor Fair takes place on Dec. 7, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Van-Far high school. Residents can shop among 40 area vendors, take pictures with Santa, and purchase pulled-pork sandwiches and a side for under $5. Hosted by the Lincoln School Alumni, the cost of admittance is two canned food items, which will be donated to a local food pantry.
“Write more stories about our veterans.”
Celebrating 50 years in Vandalia, VFW Post 2173, and Women’s Auxiliary will honor veterans at Vandalia’s fairgrounds on Dec. 12, at 6 p.m. Free to veterans and immediate family members, area vets will have dinner and be welcomed by a guest speaker yet to be determined.
While at the fairgrounds, take a moment and check out the late Ben Salmon’s nativity scene. Maintained by Larry Nation, you can view Vandalia’s longest nativity scene Friday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
“What’s happening in the area during the holiday season?”
The city of Laddonia has its Light up Laddonia for Christmas celebration on Dec. 8, starting at 3 p.m. with a Christmas Cantata at Laddonia First Baptist Church. Following that, there will be a parade through the streets of Laddonia beginning at the city’s ballpark and ending at Laddonia city park. The parade starts at 6 p.m. After a welcome by mayor Josh Deimeke and a reading of the Christmas Story by the Ministerial Alliance, there will be an account of the Memory and Honor Ornaments by Melissa Diemeke. Alderman Glenn Jensen will light the Christmas tree at 7 p.m. and then join participants in a sing-a-long to “Joy to the World.”
Not to be outdone, the city of Vandalia will also have their tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 8, starting at 5 p.m. Vandalia’s Chamber of Commerce will host the event. Volunteers will be on hand delivering free hot chocolate and s’mores to city residents and those from the surrounding area. The council will also host, in conjunction with the Van-Far school district, Christmas from a Small Town Heart. Parents can have their kids’ pictures taken with Santa and receive free Dairy Queen gift cards at Van-Far Elementary School on Dec. 15, from 2 – 5 p.m.
So what’s newsworthy in our lives? What’s the story? In a small town, there are no news releases — no notices from the governor. The news here in Vandalia comes from those who are important to us. It comes from our families and friends. It comes from our coworkers, our schools, and yes, sometimes from a computer screen. Maybe I’ll make an effort and go see my neighbor. Tell him the good news. Tell him about the eastern spotted skunk.