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I know Santa Claus; he subscribes to The News

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

I know. He’s a subscriber to The News.

The Big Man in Red appreciates a good community newspaper, with its tales of good people doing good things, its celebrations of successes big and small, its annual commitment to chronicling the holiday traditions of its readers.

Surely, Santa stays on top of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post. He needs to know what kind of world he’s flying over on Christmas Eve.

But his heart is with the small-town papers that are still connected to their communities, that still regularly tell a story just because it’s a good story, even if the characters are unknown to anyone outside of town.

All year long, every year, I am honored to work for such a paper.

A paper that still supports a Lifestyles page, where anniversaries, weddings, engagements, and 100th birthdays can be feted. Where students get their name forever memorialized for making the dean’s list off at college. Where “big check” photos of donations to local nonprofits are run and class reunions are still promoted.

A paper that still covers prep sports, where athletes who may never show up on ESPN still get their photos printed large and full-color to be forever cherished.

A paper that still covers school board meetings and city councils on the farther reaches of its coverage area. That profiles the keepers of local lighthouses and gives front-page treatment to the veterans who come out in full dress for Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

We have to write the tough stories, too, because telling people the unvarnished truth is part of caring. Because a true friend tells you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear.

But The News, like other community papers still printing all across this country, believes you have to spend time on the good stories as well as the bad, the ordinary folks as well as the leaders, if you are to paint the fullest, most accurate picture of a place.

And, on that front, we really shine at Christmastime.

As a certified Christmas geek — I put up my tree sometime in early November every year and watch “A Christmas Story,” “Elf,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” as many times as I can — I love how this paper makes a big deal of the holiday.

That we sell collectible Christmas bulbs every year. That we collect letters to Santa and photos of babies’ first Christmases. That we count down to the big day on the bottom of the front page every year. That we run photos of the Michigan State Police’s Stuff a Blue Goose events and give big play to the anonymous donor who strikes every year in the Salvation Army’s red kettle fundraising campaign. That we print an Old Newsboys parody paper to raise funds for local charity. That we cover the winner of the Golden Goose Giving Tuesday fundraiser like it’s the presidential race.

And that we turn over valuable front-page real estate day in and day out every Christmastime to holiday feature stories.

We’ve done different things from year to year, writing about Christmas cookie recipes and the virtue of real Christmas trees versus artificial.

This year’s stories are among my favorite, though.

Since Thanksgiving, our reporters have fanned out across our communities, finding real people on the street, and just having a simple Christmas conversation. The stories are written in Q-and-A format, with a photo of each interview subject — most of them smiling brightly — displayed prominently on the front page.

One reader wrote to thank us for such stories. With all of us shut up in our homes in fear of the coronavirus, unable to speak to our friends and neighbors the way we normally would, the “Christmas conversation” stories are like talking to long-lost friends over coffee every morning, the reader said.

That’s why we do it.

We’re a community paper, and that means we try to connect the various threads of our community into one fabric — which shines brightly red and green every Advent season.

And ol’ St. Nick — if he is gladness and joy, generosity and forgiveness, warmth and caring — is so prominently woven into that fabric, too.

That’s why I know he subscribes.

Merry Christmas, dear readers.

May this season and every season hereafter bring you good news.

Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-358-5686 or jhinkley@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.

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