Rollie Atkinson's 3 Realizations About Local News
The need for local news has not changed, even though everything else about it has.
Former Editor and Publisher of the Sonoma West Times and News, Rollie Atkinson spoke at the Western Sonoma County Historical Society’s quarterly meeting this week. His 42-year journey, which started in Frederick, Maryland, brought him to Sonoma County for a visit when the apples were in blossom in April and he decided to stay.
Atkinson started as a sports editor of the Healdsburg Tribune and then eventually became its editor. He became the owner and manager of the Sonoma West Times and News as well as the Healdsburg Tribune, saying that he did so reluctantly because what enjoyed most was writing. He fought to keep the papers going as the market for local advertising dropped precipitously because of the Internet, a situation which all local newspapers across the country found themselves in. He moved the operations into the non-profit Sonoma County Local News Initiative, which maintained SoCoNews.com up until April of this year. He retired in February and continues to write stories based on real events but he doesn’t expect to publish them.
Atkinson wanted to share his three realizations about the importance of local news.
Without local journalism, the community is missing out on accountability in local government. Journalists can provide independent oversight of politicians, looking at their priorities and spending.
He had asked himself what was the overall purpose of a local newspaper. Why did it matter in the bigger picture? His answer was “its mission should be to encourage civic engagement.” In other words, a newspaper can help people understand how to participate in civic life and how to work with others as advocates or volunteers.
Newspapers also provide us with our history, he said, pointing out how much of what we know about the past has come to us because we have a record of it in newspapers. Mentioning the collections of the Western Sonoma Historical Society, he said, we have a history because newspapers wrote about what happened back then.
The West County Museum’s current exhibit is an extensive view of newspaper history in Sebastopol and West County from 1899 to present. Atkinson donated physical volumes of The Sebastopol Times to the Museum, which is operated by the Western Sonoma County Historical Society.