Three cheers for writers and editors! That’s my own personal cheer but it could also be the motto of the Westside Express (WE).
For this brave new experiment in local journalism to have succeeded so far, WE needed, of course, subscribers and advertisers. That’s the engine that keeps us going.
But WE also needed many people to write stories and columns, and WE needed other people to edit the articles to make them “newspaper ready.”
What this brave new journalistic experiment has received so far has been an outpouring of support–first from the many businesses and subscribers that have recognized the importance to a newspaper that covers local news.
They know the value of reporting on city council meetings, planning commission meetings and school board meetings and providing updates on the local college campuses, K-12 schools, community libraries and the local hospital. They also appreciate news about health and water issues and coverage of high school and youth sports.
Westside Express readers have also appreciated getting each week in one place a newspaper that provides a community calendar, updates on recreation and parks, information on clubs and organizations and special interest features that appeal to gardeners, commuters, church goers and local history buffs, among others.
But all this would not be possible without the many people from Los Banos, Dos Palos, Firebaugh and Santa Nella who have come forward to support the Westside Express by WRITING all those stories that subscribers and advertisers appreciate.
WE has been blessed to have individuals who are not trained journalists step forward to write news reports, special interest features and opinion pieces.
Special praise goes to five persons who have agreed to report on the news and have gone to meetings, listened and taken careful notes, then written reports of those meetings: Malina Duran, Prishaa Vala, Claudia Bretado Bautista, and Sandy Lemas.
All four have reported on city council, planning commission, school board, and/or downtown association meetings.
None of these dependable persons have taken journalism courses, but all of them are bright, talented persons who have learned quickly and become skillful reporters.
Malina, a college student, has written for just about every issue of the Westside Express, providing important coverage of Los Banos City Council and Planning Commission meetings.
Prishaa, a high school senior, has reported on the Los Banos Unified School Board and on news from Los Banos High School. Claudia has reported on city council and school board meetings in Dos Palos, while Sandy has covered the Los Banos Downtown Association.
WE has another large group of contributors who write about topics that interest them. These include Mark Koehler and Rob Robinson, who submit interesting articles about gardening and commuting; Lisa Roper-Parolise, who writes about physical and mental health; and Joanne Hoefer, who writes about books.
WE has also had six different local pastors rotate to write a weekly pastor’s column and Priscilla del Bosque, the Oro Loma Nomad, write about her Peace Corps adventures.
Other people have come forward to write about different organizations they represent: Dr. Mark Marshall on K-12 school news, Joe Heim on Los Banos parks and recreation updates, Jessica Moran and James Leonard on Merced College Los Banos Campus news and Bethany Matos on Westhills College Firebaugh Center news.
WE has also had Michelle Munden and Kristie Marion provide updates from the Los Banos Memorial Hospital, Chris White from Exchange Contractors give information on water issues and Mike Dunbar give updates from our local state assembly district.
Representatives from local clubs and organizations have also come through by writing WE articles, including Patricia McCoy (Los Banos Veterans), Dan Nelson (Milliken Museum Society), Sandy Lemas (Soroptimists and other service clubs) and Anthony Parreira (Golden Agers).
What’s important to note about all the people I’ve named so far is that, although they have had little or no journalism education or experience, they have shown themselves to be superb writers
That reinforces an idea I’ve had since I started teaching college English courses 52 years ago–that each person has within them an inner writer. I used to tell my college students that writing is as natural as speaking. If you just write what you would have spoken, you’ve become a writer.
Many people who have been given the opportunity to write discover that they like writing, and in some cases love writing.
Besides the many WE contributors without journalism experience, the Westside Express is fortunate to have three veteran journalists: David Borboa, a talented reporter and gifted writer who worked for many years with the Dos Palos Sun, and Diana Ingram and Janet Miller, who have written columns for other papers for many years and now write for the Westside Express.
Along with writers, a newspaper could not exist with editors. Editors first doublecheck the factual details of a submitted story. Then they use their organizational, writing and proofreading skills and experience to ensure the article is clear and reader-friendly.
Publisher Gene Lieb has relied on Kim Yancey, the former editor of the Los Banos Enterprise, and me to do the editing. Recently he was able to recruit Cal Tatum, another retired veteran journalist, to help edit. And within the last weeks Gene has connected with journalism instructors at CSU Stanislaus, getting their advice and help with editing and other facets of the Westside Express.
All the people I have mentioned in this column comprise an amazing list of contributors. It takes the many, many contributions of all these people to produce the Westside Express.
I know of no other newspaper in the United States that is doing what WE is doing, relying so much on local writers who are not journalists and volunteer editors to support their publisher (and photographer and ad salesman), Gene Lieb.
In the months ahead WE hopes to bring on one or more younger persons who believe in the value and importance of a true local newspaper. That will help sustain the Westside Express. But even then, WE will still need to continue to rely on all the other talented people who have written for us.
For those reading this column who are not subscribers, please consider subscribing. It’s only a dollar a week. For subscribers, tell your friends. WE could use more subscribers, even double the number we have now.
Let’s hope this brave new experiment can continue far into the future and sustain the success it has shown in its first four months.