Commentary, Local Commentary

Editorial: Our ‘Our Town’ & Our Newspaper

In Thornton Wilder’s powerful 1938 Pulitzer Prize winning play about small-town America, the narrator’s introduction showing the audience around a small New England town in 1901 includes the following: “In those days our newspaper came out twice a week—the Grover’s Corners Sentinel—and this is Editor Webb’s house.” The Sentinel, Editor Webb and the paperboy play central roles in the play.

In his 2021 book, “Dedicated: The Case for Commitment in an Age of Infinite Browsing,” Falls Church native Pete Davis’ paean to what poet Jack Gilbert described as “The beauty that is of many days, steady and clear, the normal excellence of long accomplishment,” is like in many ways Wilder’s “Our Town” applied to Falls Church. He wrote, “I grew up in a town – Falls Church, Virginia – that had a strong identity It had a small school system and a rich civic life, especially for children: Boy and Girls Scouts, Operation Earth Watch, youth soccer and Little League every Saturday morning, the Falls Church News-Press at everyone’s door every Thursday, the fall festival in October, the Memorial Day parade in May. Behind every beloved institution in town was a dedicated person. Howard Herman helmed the weekly farmer’s market. Nikki and Ed Henderson were in charge of the annual blues festival. Nick Benton kept the News-Press running. Barb Cram kept the local art shows going. Sue John kept the preschool open.”

What he described in a couple pages, including the roles of Annette and Dave Eckert who “somehow turned our town’s tiny recycling and litter prevention program into a fun community endeavor, complete with school clubs, picnics and t-shirts in which hundreds of us kids participated,” has a distinctly “Our Town” ambiance about it, This is underscored by viewing the City’s cable access channel to watch hours of videotape reruns of our town’s annual Memorial Day parades aired on weekends that ooze of local small town flavor.

Yes, Falls Church is a quintessential small town in America, with its 15,000 residents being acutely active in civil affairs, routinely boasting of the state’s highest voter turnout in elections, and having nurtured one of the finest school systems in the entire nation.

With this in mind, we should all lament the latest downsizing of the area’s one formidable daily newspaper, The Washington Post, which reported on scores of layoffs made just in the last week in its newsroom. “While such changes are not easy, evolution is necessary for us to stay competitive and the economic environment has guided our decision to act now,” executive editor Sally Buzbee is quoted saying. The latest blow comes amid the years’ long subordination of the news to investor demands, even as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos bought the paper in 2013.

Moreover, online alternatives simply cannot substitute for powering the informing, learning and remembering of news like a tactile product that can be held, folded, marked on, and set aside for re-reading can do.