Monday, August 25, 2014

Small Town Newspapers: A Thing of the Past?

On July 30, 2014 the Macon Chronicle-Herald of Macon, Missouri printed its last issue. It had been in print since at least 1926 as the Chronicle-Herald. Its owner GateHouse Media decided there was no longer a need for the paper. This ended a long history of newspapers in Macon, and the small town is now without a newspaper, although it will still be served by the The Home Press which is headquartered in nearby La Plata, Missouri. Once upon a time many small towns had more than one newspaper. It was not unusual in the Victorian Era for a town of 12,000 or even as small as 5,000 to have two or three daily or weekly newspapers. Even small hamlets of only a few hundred people had weekly newspapers. As time passed these papers would either go out of business or merge until a small town had only one newspaper. Many of these small dailies are still in business.

A local newspaper was the lifeline of a small town. They could report local news in more depth than radio, and reported on a wide variety of things. In the pages of a local newspaper one could find in addition to major news stories, news on the local government, businesses, birth announcements, announcements of engagements, wedding announcements, death notices, society news, local entertainment, local sports, and more. Local persons were often interviewed about such topics as local history, or the opening of a new business. A wide variety of information was available daily. During much of the 20th century small town newspapers served much the same purpose as the internet does today. One needs only browse such sites as or newspaperarchive,com to see the amount of local news a small town newspaper covered. Beginning in the 1960s and earlier major corporations began buying local papers. Unable to keep up with the cost of printing and distribution many small presses found the need to sell, and were quickly snatched up by large news syndicates. This spelled the beginning of the end for local newspapers.

Many small town weeklies ceased publication after being purchased by news syndicates as they were merged with local daily papers. An example of this was the Randolph County Times-Herald which was purchased by the news syndicate owning the Moberly Monitor-Index. The two papers were merged with the Times-Herald becoming a page in the Monitor-Index. After several years of being published this way, the Times-Herald simply disappeared. Many small town newspapers disappeared this way having been purchased by a large company and then merged with a larger paper in a nearby town. This was actually an extension of a process that had been going on for many years. The newspapers of many small hamlets had already been swallowed up by the newspapers of nearby towns. For example, the Times-Herald had been created by the merger of several Huntsville, Missouri papers over the years.  The Times-Herald in turn purchased the village newspaper of Clifton Hill, the Clifton Hill Rustler. The Times-Herald then was bought up and merged with the Monitor-Index, and so the process continued.

Ownership of small town newspapers by news syndicates has had disastrous side effects. As the news syndicates cut the staff of local papers, less local news could be covered. The local papers therefore had to run more news from the national and international news wires. This arrangement worked fine until the late 1990s when the world wide web came about. Suddenly, folks were no longer reliant on the local small town newspaper to get national and international news in depth. Instead they could simply go to sites like Yahoo News, or one of the major city newspapers' websites. Since much of the news printed by many small town papers was no longer local news people no longer felt a need to subscribe to local papers and circulations dropped. As circulation  of a paper dropped, advertisers sought out other outlets for their ads such as radio and television, not to mention the internet. As ad revenue dropped, the large news syndicates no longer saw the local papers profitable. And this brings us to the Macon Chronicle-Herald. It has met the fate of many small town newspapers across the nation. When a small town newspaper ceases to be profitable in the eyes of a news syndicate it risks being closed. One has to wonder if there will be a time when there is no longer such a thing as the small town newspaper.

There is perhaps a way to reverse this trend. First, in order to increase circulation and thus remain profitable small town newspapers need to go back to running local news no one else will run. They need to print news one will not find on the internet, and that may only get a passing mention on radio or television. Small town newspapers need to take advantage of the fact they can still cover news in depth. They are not hindered by time as are radio and television. Unlike radio or television they are not limited by the amount of time a news show can run a news segment. If a small town newspaper so desired they can dedicate an entire page to a local news story mentioning things that would have been edited out by the local radio or television stations due to time.In addition small town news papers can run news stories that no one else will run such as local society and business news. There is perhaps a way small town papers may be able to survive.

It may be too late for small town newspapers. It certainly was for the Chronicle-Herald. Many may have already reached the point they can never rebuild their circulations so that a news syndicate would not think of closing them. This is truly sad as newspapers have played such a big part in American history. Alas, new technology may have already spelled their doom. One can only hope local news outlets on the internet will rise to take their place. Otherwise, residents may wind up without a way to learn about what is going on in their towns. Television and radio simply do not have the means to cover local news in depth, and thus far for most small towns there has not arisen a substitute for the local small town paper. Only time will tell.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Randolph County Missouri Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair

The Randolph County Missouri Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair will take place September 11, 12, and 13 in historic downtown Huntsville, Missouri. This is the 126th anniversary of the fair. Those that have lived in Randolph County, Missouri for more than 60 years get a free dinner Thursday the 11th. Registration for this begins at 9 am at Trask Hall of the Baptist Church in Huntsville. The Old Settlers Meeting takes place at 11 am, and the dinner at Noon. There will be many other activities throughout the evening including a performance by the band Loaded Chamber, a parade, a street dance, royalty contests, a fun run, and a three on three basket ball tournament. This is a county wide event and those from Cario, Clark, Clifton Hill, Higbee, Huntsville, Moberly, and Renick Missouri and all places in between in the county are encouraged to take part. For more information go to:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Video Catchphrase: A Symptom of a Society that Cannot Think for Itself

A Video with a Catchphrase not Telling Someone What to Feel
I first noticed it last year. There were a bunch of videos on Facebook that were along the lines of, "Watch this dog greet its master, you won't believe what happens next!' You might watch the video and see nothing out of the ordinary. It is just a video of a dog greeting his master after the master has been away, and the dog does the usual doggie things. About the time folks started commenting how this catch phrase was melodramatic or at least an extreme exaggeration of what takes place in the videos the catchphrase disappeared. This catchphrase was replaced with videos being posted to Facebook with catchphrases like, "You will be in tears!" or "You will be rolling on the floor laughing!" These catchphrases perhaps because there is some variety have lasted longer.

From the start I hated any text that went with a video that said something like, "You won't believe what happens next" or "You will be in tears." How dare they tell me how I will react to the video! Maybe I think the idea of a kid throwing oatmeal on his dad's head is something to cry about, and not laugh at. Who are you folks to tell me what I find funny, what I find sorrowful, what I find stimulating? Who are you to tell me how to think? Yet videos with such catchphrases persist on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere.

Part of what irritates me is I was taught in college how to write headlines, and how to write copy for advertising. There are some things you do not do. One of them is you do not tell the person how to feel or what to think. You present what you feel the facts are, and let the reader or viewer decide for his or herself. Thus you may have a headline for a news story like, "War in Iraq. Thousands Killed," and not "War in Iraq, You will be Appalled at the Death Toll." With advertising you have a bit more leeway. You can get away with something like "Dawn Soap: We Think You Will Like the Results."  On rare occasions if you are feeling cocky you might even say, "Dawn Soap, You will Like the Results." For the most part though you do not tell someone how to feel, you present them with a catchy phrase about the product like :Kentucky Fried Chicken, finger licking good," and hope your suggestion leads them to eating chicken.

A friend and I were talking about the effectiveness of such catchphrases as "You will be in tears." His argument was they must be effective or else they would not use them. He pointed out that they collect all kinds of data on these click throughs such as what site the person came from, if on a social network, who are his or her friends, where they come from, what other things does he or she like, what kinds of videos get the most hits, and more. Further they experiment with catchphrases and the preview pictures of what works and what doesn't based on click throughs. I agreed he was right, but I said that since everyone of these videos uses same sort of catchphrase they do not even know if that method is or is not more effective than simply saying, "A dog greets its master after the master's long deployment." I further said that they may not know if perhaps it was the preview picture of the video that drew the viewer to click on it. Even with all this data I did not think they could figure out why someone clicked on a video link to view it. In essence my faith in humanity would not allow me to think folks would actually click on something that tells them how to feel.

After some more discussion I arrived at the conclusion that the American people may now have become accustomed to being told not just how to feel, but how to think. After all Fox News has been on the air since 1985 all the while telling its viewers how to think, and not just presenting them with the information. They are not the only network to do this though others may be more subtle. Commentators like Rush Limbaugh regularly tell folks what they should feel or think about some such or another. Even politicians tell folks how to think or feel. You do not hear many Americans speaking their own opinions, but repeating catchphrases or slogans from their favorite news channel or political commentator. If you enter a debate with them you are not likely to be presented with data or information to back their claims, but with simple quotes from some person who is not even an expert about the subject. Therefore, I concluded that being told, "This will put you in tears" or "This will have you on the floor laughing," may not offend them. Indeed, it may even reassure them that they do not have to think for themselves. They may take some comfort in the fact this video will make them laugh or cry. It saves them the trouble of making up their own minds.

It is a sad commentary on our society that people can no longer think for themselves, but have to be told such and such video will have them laughing their hearts out. Once upon a time folks were simply presented with information, and were allowed to decide for themselves how to feel or think. Sure, even then the media filtered what you were presented with. You might be told the marines have taken Iwo Jima, but not what the death toll was. But if you persisted you might be able to find the information. And never were you told, :"The Marines Took Iwo Jima Today, You Will Cry for the Fallen Japanese." In that day and age, advertisers might try to tell you how to feel, but that was advertising, and for the most part even advertisers avoided telling folks what to do. You would see things like, "Smart Shoppers Shop at Value Mart," and not "Shop at Value Mart, It will have you leaping for joy." The second example was not rare, but no one paid attention. It was advertising. My point is people have been taught they must be told how to feel and what to think. We have ceased being a society of freethinkers.

I think therefore it is time purveyors of such videos take a different route, one that will appeal to free thinkers, and encourage those that are not free thinkers to be. Perhaps  have a video with a description like, "Is this dog cute or what?! Decide for yourself!" Or perhaps, "Is this cat funny? What do you think?" Maybe it is time everyone stops telling other Americans how to think or feel. Maybe it is time we just present the information and let folks decide for themselves how they will react. After all what is wrong with describing a video simply as, "This cat apparently loves its companion, watch and see?"

Monday, August 11, 2014

Enhancing My Laptop's Audio: A Review

Last week I decided I wanted to improve the sound I get from my laptop so I went looking for audio enhancers. The first one I downloaded was DFX Audio Enhancer by FXSound. The free trial version was somewhat stripped down, but still usable. I found it preformed at the levels I wanted even given the limitations. The sound it delivered was good. Overall, I was pleased with its performance and would have continued using it save for some annoyances. It had this popup that would come up every 30 minutes or so asking me to order the full version. You could not minimize the software's window either. The ability to minimize it to the taksbar only came with the full version. Worse yet, I found I could not use my laptop's audio without it running. Even still I might have bought the full version, but at $39.99 it was a no go. There was no way I was going to pay that for something that did not behave like a full equalizer and only gave me five items I could adjust to customize my sound.

I had seen mentioned in a review of DFX Audio Enhancer a program called ProfoundSound Audio. While ripping DFX Audio Enhancer (which the reviewer was justified to do IMO) the reviewer praised ProfoundSound Audio. So after uninstalling DFX Audio Enhancer I decided to give it a go. There are two versions. There is ProfoundSound Lite which is a 5 band graphic equalizer that has presets for music, movies, and voice. It has outputs for headphones, internal speakers, and external speakers. Then there is ProfoundSound CSharp. It is a 10 band graphic equalizer with (and I am directly quoting from the website): "variable loudness, auto volume leveling, variable dynamic surround sound, variable dynamic virtual bass, variable high frequency restoration, a 20 band spectral analyzer, variable dynamic bass and dynamic voice, plus the ability to customize and save your settings" I went whole hog and downloaded the free trial of ProfoundSound CSharp.

It was unbelievable. Not only did it give better sound than DFX Audio Enhancer but it was also fully customizable allowing you to decided how you wanted something to sound. Yet at the same time there was a variety of presets for different genres of music, as well as movies, and voice if you did not want to fiddle with the sliders. You could also save your own presets so once you had something sounding as you liked it you did not have to go adjusting things again. A big plus was you could still use your computer's own audio when you shut ProfoundSound down. I was blown away by how useful this software was and by the sound it delivered through my headphones and speakers.  Further it is only $4.96 for CSharp. The stripped down Lite which would do for most music listeners and video viewers is only $1.99.

My advice for anyone wanting to enhance their computer's audio is avoid DFX Audio Enhancer like the plague and go straight to ProfoundSound. It is by far the better choice. A word of warning though, with both audio enhancing programs YouTube videos are jerky or out of sequence with the audio. There is nothing you can do about this with DFX Audio Enhancer that I could see. With ProfoundSound you just shut it down and use your computer's own native software do its job.