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Everything we do we do for public service

It costs money to print newspapers, and, like any business, we care about our bottom lines, so we can invest in our people and the technology, equipment, and services necessary to improve what we have to offer.

But, at their heart, newspapers exist for public service.

A call to public service dragged most of us into this sometimes rotten enterprise. Knowing we’ve made our communities better places in ways big and small makes all the late nights, early mornings, missed special occasions, extra five (or 10 or 20) pounds, coffee addiction, and headache worth it.

That’s why it meant so much to learn this week that the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors had given The News first place in public service for our coronavirus coverage.

When the state ordered other workers home at the pandemic’s start, your Alpena News journalists — like journalists across the globe — rushed out. We talked to the people, public officials, business leaders, health care professionals, and others who could help us make sense of the emergency so we could make sense of things for you.

Among the things we did:

∫ Immediately reported on health professionals’ recommendations for staying safe, including stories directly from District Health Department No. 4 on best handwashing practices, the importance of masks, and the importance of social distancing.

∫ Began tracking COVID-19 infections, deaths, recoveries, hospitalizations, and (eventually) vaccinations, so you could know how far the virus had reached into our communities and understand the danger you faced. We reported those numbers in stories, in a chart on our front page, and in interactive graphics online to help you track the virus’ warpath. We also launched an interactive timeline online.

∫ Spoke to local businesses and economic development professionals about the potential economic consequences of government-mandated shutdowns, and kept track of the pandemic’s effect on our local economy.

∫ News Lifestyles Editor Darby Hinkley and other reporters kept tabs on the canceled events, closed theaters, and other impacts on our quality of life and economy.

∫ Hinkley also participated in a nationwide team of reporters put together by Ogden Newspapers, our corporate office, to report on the virus’ impacts across the country, from government to agriculture to small businesses to churches and more.

∫ We also kept tabs on the good things, from mask-making armies formed when supplies ran short early in the pandemic to the many grants made available both through the government and local charities to the hordes of volunteers who showed up at food banks, testing clinics, and other programs to take care of you and your neighbors. Those stories showed you places you could get involved and showed you the world kept spinning, that it wasn’t all bad.

∫ In the earliest months of the pandemic, we reorganized our front page to bring you all of the local, statewide, and national stories on the virus in an easy-to-digest format. We also launched a special coronavirus section to our website (which still exists) to give you easy access to the information.

We were afraid early on, just like you. We were tired, just like you.

But we knew you were tired and afraid, so we kept at it. We keep at it today.

To me, our coronavirus coverage only amplified our daily dedication to public service:

∫ Our Progress 2019 special edition on Northeast Michigan’s economy, which won second place in the Special Section category in this year’s Michigan Press Association Better Newspaper Contest, kept you up to speed on the trends affecting your livelihood and the livelihood of your friends and loved ones.

∫ Assistant Managing Editor James Andersen’s story on the sports photographer who never delivered photos parents had paid for, which took a first-place Sports Writing award from the MPA, held accountable a bad business and offered a cautionary tale for consumers.

∫ Andersen’s second-place sports column on Posen coach Karl Momrik’s dedication after a heart attack offered a story to inspire us all.

∫ Staff writer Julie Riddle’s story on the 2019 elk hunt, which won third-place Best Feature Story from the MPA and first-place in Spot News from the AP, documented an important slice of Up North life for the sake of history.

∫ Darby Hinkley’s second-place Spot News story on Alpena’s participation in global demonstrations against police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis showed us how national events affect our hearts here in Northeast Michigan.

Such stories are told by newspapers — and, often, only by newspapers — all across Michigan, all across the country.

And we do it for you.

Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-354-3112 or jhinkley@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.

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