As a person who has written columns in Los Banos for 39 years, I am proud to be a part of The Westside Express. It is a bold and courageous rejuvenation of local journalism.
I believe this venture, initiated by veteran newspaper publisher Gene Lieb, will succeed because so many people on the Westside of Merced County believe in the importance of a relevant local newspaper.
Residents of Dos Palos and Firebaugh have been served for many years by a newspaper providing local news, the Dos Palos Sun. The last few years one person, David Borboa, has almost single-handedly kept local journalism alive for these two cities. However, David couldn’t physically keep that up by himself; no one could.
Meanwhile, in the communities of Los Banos and Santa Nella residents for the past few years have yearned for comprehensive local news each week–about issues like city government, schools and high school sports–news that relates to them and impacts their lives.
Backers of the Sun wanted to keep a local newspaper going. Residents of Los Banos and Santa Nella wanted the return of a newspaper which focuses on what’s happening in their towns.
Hank Vander Veen, who publishes a local newspaper in other Westside cities, also wanted to help Gene Lieb and a team of writers he has brought together. All of these ideas converged into a paper with a new name, The Westside Express.
Like many others in Los Banos, I remember the days, years ago, when my hometown newspaper regularly reported on city council and school board meetings and alerted readers to upcoming special events. It also reported on public safety issues and presented stories about young people competing in football, basketball, baseball, soccer, swimming and other sports.
Those were the days when the local newspaper also reported on recreational opportunities, church information, new businesses and local deaths. Obituaries are in many ways not only a record of people who have died, but a record of a city’s history.
The Westside Express is committed to do all of this. But to succeed it will need the help of many people–not just agreeing with the idea of a local newspaper but supporting it with subscriptions and advertising.
Make no mistake. Gene Lieb, the publisher of this new paper, is taking a brave and courageous risk. He knows he is swimming against the tide, nationally.
As reported by Margaret Sullivan in her recent book “Ghosting the News,” more than 2,000 newspapers in the United States have gone out of business since 2004, many of them in small towns. Others have been bought up by hedge funds solely to make a quick profit.
The Westside Express has received commitments from several local free-lance journalists who believe in local journalism. Although at this time the Express isn’t financially able to hire full-time reporters, these free-lance writers are committed to providing timely, comprehensive local news, as well as presenting feature stories on individuals and organizations.
To complement and supplement the work of free-lance reporters, The Westside Express has also received commitments from many local entities–including Sutter Health’s Memorial Hospital in Los Banos, the Los Banos Unified School District, Merced College and the Los Banos Parks and Recreation Department–to periodically provide informational articles about what’s happening in their domains.
The Express will also publish a community calendar, local columns and opinion pieces. It will encourage readers to submit letters to the editor. And at times it will look back on the history of the communities it serves.
A relevant local newspaper serves as a kind of “village square,” providing for its community as a reliable and regular source of local news in one place. And it will indeed “take a village” to enable this village square to succeed.
It will take the combined efforts not only of free-lance journalists and community organizations but also of subscribers and local advertisers. The logo of the Westside Express displays a large “WE.” That’s appropriate since the newspaper will be the result of a collective “we.”
One more point needs to be made. The primary medium of the Westside Express will be its print edition. It will also have a digital presence, but the digital version won’t be its first priority. And readers won’t see the digital version unless they are subscribers to the print edition.
Reading stories in a printed version, as many research studies have shown, is easier on the eyes than focusing on a screen. In the same way many people prefer printed books to Kindle books, many people I’ve talked with prefer printed newspapers to digital versions. And people enjoy cutting out printed stories and photographs to share or save.
I believe residents of Los Banos, Dos Palos, Firebaugh and Santa Nella will enable The Westside Express to succeed and flourish by supporting the efforts of Gene Lieb, who has decades of experience with newspapers and the ability to recruit good people to work with him.
Gene will be putting in many, many hours each week selling and designing ads, taking award-winning photos and doing anything else needed to make this newspaper work. And, I firmly believe, it WILL work.
Here’s to the success of The Westside Express!