An online town square could reacquaint us with us
By Brad Carrier
An old Ashland Daily Tidings box for the paper still hangs near my mailbox. Years before our Tidings was coopted and abandoned by the Medford Mail Tribune, I dropped my subscription because it was such a waste of resources. Most of the paper, ink, etc., went to ads, sports, and other sections I never read regularly and went to the recycle bin. It felt unethical to pay for that daily waste. Yet, I miss it.
Now I see those ads and unread sections as a vital part of our overall community. Though I prefer holding a paper in my hands as opposed to reading it online, the online form is far more carbon and resource efficient than the former paper version. It also could be far more accessible to post ads, events and ideas.
A comprehensive online paper could centralize what has gone scattered. Ashland.news could supply Ashland with a resource far more accessible, comprehensive, and inexpensive than newspapers used to be. It is heartening that Bert Etling, Herbert Rothschild, Paul Steinle, etc., are picking up some of the news and editorial functions of our town paper, but our town needs much more.
For instance, I had some blankets and pillows to donate to houseless persons. Where to go, or even where to go to find out where to go? Sneak Preview? Locals Guide? The Ashland Chronicle? Facebook? Call the police or city?
What about community events? Sneak Preview tries, but it only comes out monthly and not all events make it in there. The Jefferson Public Radio online calendar of events? Again, only a few events make it there. Many events only show in scattered places. What comprehensive, centralized calendar could readers rely on?
Then there’s all the merchants, restaurants, and services that might easily and inexpensively advertise in an online directory. It wouldn’t be expensive ads intruding on our reading pages, but largely self-managed ads easily available to those looking for such products and services.
For instance, I can think of numerous interesting shops around town, like Gypsy Road, that go unnoticed. Typical ads in paper newspapers, like what Rosebud Media sells for the Medford Mail Tribune, cost hundreds of dollars. Too much. Not much bang for the buck for many smaller merchants and service providers. What if there were simple, self-managed software capable of receiving and showing some photos, a blurb, and an URL? The cost could be minimal, perhaps $10 a month.
A nonprofit paper like Ashland.news could provide our community with wiki-like access for ads, community events, news reports, sports reports, gardening advice, obituaries, want ads, city notices and issues, and ample opinion and letters to the editor.
Nonprofits can still make enough money to fairly compensate editors, reporters, and staff, just not also generate profits to shareholders. How could Ashland.news serve this town instead of exploiting it for profits?
Humans evolved in small groups that knew each other, usually around a central circle (the town square) where news of all sorts could be shared. Now we have centrifugal forces separating our togetherness into numerous places. What were three channels on TV became hundreds. Online news has fragmented into tribes.
Who knows what residents have to offer or what they might think? Who knows who is selling what where? A single, comprehensive gathering place, an online town square and bulletin board, like Ashland.news, could reacquaint us with us.
What if there were an open, public suggestion box for not just the paper, but many functions and businesses about town where good ideas could be voted up and improved? How many suggestions (that could spur better suggestions) go unexpressed for lack of a place to post them? For this, opinion, reporting, etc., contributors would have to use their actual names, not spout anonymous snark.
Instead of a few people deciding what gets published, the community would be aided to invest itself in its own affordable, accessible paper, a sort of local wiki compilation, a place for information and interaction.
My son, who has long built and managed such more complex and interactive websites, assures me there is software capable of being used by ordinary persons. His vision would also have a single-sheet printed newspaper distributed around town periodically that would direct readers to the more extensive online version. Such a pared down and inexpensive sheet would acquaint readers with their online options to find and post information.
Though mainly of Ashland, by Ashland, for Ashland — it could easily host simple URLs and news of distant events and opinion, from the Rogue Valley to world news. And it could go the other way — our thinking, events, and ads might be of benefit and interest to distant persons, perhaps drawing some to town.
It isn’t just rescuing our local media from the national Sinclair propaganda machine (most in Medford won’t realize they’re getting Fox-lite), it’s rebuilding our own interactive community. The ads and sections I used to ignore won’t also be wasted resources. But they won’t have to be printed and distributed, as was the case, for they’d be available online, and they’d be partly managed by those posting ads, events, and opinion there.
While I’m proud of Ashland.news for trying to rescue and create our own newspaper to fulfill the fourth estate function of freedom of the press, it needs to be well-trafficked, owned and partly managed by the readers, generating the money needed to make and keep it ours. Ashland.news could serve the function of the town square and bulletin board.
Byron Bradley Carrier has been an Ashland resident since 1986. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.