I have often criticized area newspaper for the way they cover (or fail to cover) the deaths of important or newsworthy citizens. At The Carthage Press, thanks to the hard work of people like Marvin VanGilder and Jack Harshaw, we had voluminous files that we could access any time a key newsmaker or someone who had been one in the past died. That was the only first part of the job. After that, we had to get on the phone and call people who knew the deceased.
I was never one to invade the privacy of the family during the time of mourning, but there were numerous occasions when a family member would call me after hearing I was working on the story and provide me with more information. As many of the critics of this blog have told me, that was a different time and things are not done like that any more. And you have to ask why newspapers are fighting for their survival.
The files that were maintained for years on the third floor of the old Carthage Press building are no longer there, after GateHouse Media (or whatever it was called at that time) decided to move from its historic downtown location to a colorless, antiseptic building on Central Avenue. Hopefully, the files were donated to a historical society or museum, but I wouldn't count on it.
Of course, during my later years as editor, as the internet replaced clip files, Ron Graber set up an electronic filing system which proved invaluable. Nothing was more helpful to new reporters than to be able to dig into our electronic archives and add background to their stories.
The drawbacks of not having these clip files (and only having two reporters and an editor who doesn't write much) was evident in the Tuesday Carthage Press. The death of attorney Tom Klinginsmith was prominently featured on page one, a good call. Unfortunately, the story was the obit that was provided by the family...an obit that also ran, word for word, on page two of Tuesday's paper.
Having a clip file, whether in a folder or in electronic form, would have been a great starting point, and there would have been any number of people who would have been happy to have told the reporter about Tom Klinginsmith. The newspaper spent more time providing coverage of a Walt Disney impersonator than it did to a man who was a leading citizen of Carthage for decades.
Undoubtedly, the Chautauqua events were worthy of personal coverage, but the personal touch is even more important when it involves the stories that mean the most to a small community.