Ah, the complex and often misunderstood nature of the American community newspaper. Much derided as the larger daily newspaper's younger, retarded sibling, these little guys nonetheless fulfill a function for both the people who read them and the local businesses that advertise within their pages.

What, exactly, that function is, is complicated by the fact that community newspapers can be published weekly, every two weeks, monthly, quarterly, or even, yes, daily, like The Medford Transcript in Mass. Some cover tiny towns while others cover big cities and have the circulations to match. Many mirror the news of their larger competitors, but give their stories an angle that hits closer to home with their readership. A few attempt to break out of traditional journalism in order to service a younger, hipper crowd, like The Weekly Dig, or some niche market publications.

In the United States, there are more than 6,699 weekly newspapers, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Massachusetts – hey, I'm biased - has over 150 of the things. Unfortunately, it is damn near impossible to find a listing of an area's entire population of community newspapers, including all the different sort mentioned above. Nevertheless, they are there. You may have ignored your community newspaper up until now, but it can be worth it to take a look now and again.

Some things sometimes found in a community newspaper:

1. Hard News
From the start, let me just make clear that what appears in any paper appears at the discretion of its publisher(s). Thus, some publications feature a great deal of hard news that can include regional, state-wide, or country-wide topics. Some publishers focus entirely on the region. In that case, all the stories in the paper will be the result of or directly affect that region. Finally, there is a third batch of publishers who don't publish any hard news at all, preferring to focus on fluffy stuff like engagement announcements and the local little league.

An example of a regional story that mirrors a larger story can be found in the closing of a number of churches by the Boston Archdiocese. The larger daily newspapers focused on the issue as a whole. The community newspapers focused on the closing of specific churches and what that would mean to the community while briefly touching on the issue as a whole.

2. Features
Community newspaper reporters love the features, because they are their chance to express a little creativity. Of course, not all community newspaper publishers want lengthy features, though it's true that some of the alternative ones exist on them. Fearures may be a profile, an art or music review, an article about a new business, a how to column, or something else. If you're really interested in capturing the flavor of your neighborhood, there is a good chance that your community newspaper will mention new artists trying to gain a foothold and interesting local restaurants.

3. Public Service Information
When many people think community paper, their thoughts turn to birth and engagement announcements, lists of honor roll students, recipes, pictures of senior club outings, and other fluff. Yes, there are plenty of papers that focus on that sort of thing, but most, thankfully, don't use that tripe as their bread and butter.

4. Calendar Listings
Most neighborhoods have a plethora of groups, ranging from crime watches to quilting bees to artist associations to reading circles. Most community newspapers have calendar listings. In the case of regionally-focused papers, the listing section may include the date and time of a senior group's next meeting, a class being offered by the garden club, or the schedules surrounding a contested zoning issue. In the alternative and artsy papers, the calendar listings can be pages long, as they give a full rundown of the upcoming week's music and art scene.

5. School Sports
And by this, I mean high school and under. If you follow your local little league team, high school sports, or anything like that, your community newspaper is a good place to look for scores, stats, and a review of the "big game." The target audience of this section is, naturally, the parents and relatives of the players.

6. Obituaries
Some of the most loyal readers of community newspapers, or so I have gathered, are old folks. I believe it is because they were brought up to feel more of a connection with their community. Whatever the reason, they are the ones who write the majority of the letters, call in to point out spelling and grammatical errors, and offer the most criticism and compliments to their community newspapers. So, the papers cater to them a little, and that means a full page or more of obits in some papers. Everyone wants to know who kicked it and families love to see the little typeface memorials.

7. Photographs and Captions
When the glee club goes to the national championships or the teens from the YMCA volunteer at the local shelter, they send the resultant photos to the community paper, which is more often than not happy to publish it. People like to see people, I suppose, and pictures with captions make wonderful filler. Unfortunately, there are some community papers that take this to the extreme and are made up of nothing but calendar listings and photos with captions, but I don't believe it to be the majority.

Now, to clear up a couple of misconceptions, some things that are not community newspapers include the Pennysaver, the auto and real estate rags, and other "publications" made up of nothing but adverts and advertorials. They may be stationed in boxes on the corner right next to legitimate newspapers, but please don't use them as a benchmark.

Another misconception is that all community newspapers are moneymaking vehicles run by businesspeople who just wanted a side project. Some look on the ball until you read their articles and find their subject matter matches up 100% of the time to their advertising, which indicates a publisher who puts ad clients before the news. But many others do try their best to keep their finger on the pulse of current events and to capture the news when it occurs. There is nothing, NOTHING a community newspaper reporter likes more than to sniff out a story before the daily papers and television news.

A third misconception is that your community newspaper has nothing in it for you. It's easy to categorize it as being for old people, parents, dweebs, and shut ins. But a good, well run community paper will touch on issues that affect almost everyone in that community. If you drive, pay taxes, go to public or private school, enjoy culture, shop, or want to know how a large issue is going to affect your small neighborhood, there is information relevant to your life in that paper.

To find examples of community newspapers in your area or anywhere else, hit up this link. Or to find your local weekly online, try this one

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