Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Welcoming the new year, the beginning of life’s next chapter

By Constance Alexander

In 1988, Walt Apperson, then publisher of the Murray Ledger & Times, called me to set up a meeting. He had read a piece I’d written for the New York Times about my recent move from NJ to Murray, and wanted to know more about my writing. When we met in his office, he filled me in on the highlights of his background in newspapers, including his years with the paper in Mayfield, before his move to Murray.

Wherever Walt lived, he knew a good writer when he read their material, he told me. In fact, he had hired esteemed writer and Mayfield native Bobbie Ann Mason to write for her hometown paper in the summers when she was in college.

To this day I can only aspire to the mastery of Bobbie Ann, but I am still flattered by the comparison.

When Mr. Apperson invited me to create my own column, he said, “You can write about anything you want, as long as it’s not political or controversial.”

“Great,” I thought to myself. “That narrows it down.”

Swallowing hard, I crossed my fingers behind my back and said yes. I have never regretted it.

Since my high school years in Metuchen, NJ, I have been writing a column, and I always admired the ability of those who perfected the art. For years, New York Times columnist Russell Baker was my hero. His pieces in the Sunday Times were witty, informative, and written with the elegance and specificity of poetry. In the early 1980s, I actually wrote a fan letter to him. I asked if I could take his place while he was on summer vacation, and promised to emulate his style.

The hand-written note I got back from him gently declined my offer. He ended by saying: “You don’t want people to read your work and say, ‘She writes just like Russell Baker.’ You want them to read what you’ve written and say, ‘I want to write just like Alexander.’”

More words I will never forget.

Since February 2, 1989, I have written a weekly column in Kentucky. The first 31 years were for the Murray Ledger & Times. In 2020, my column moved to Kentucky Forward, and then to another online news site, Northern Kentucky Tribune. In all those years, I never missed a deadline.

“Main Street” is the title I chose because it seemed to me that the heart of any small town was its main street. By the time I moved to Kentucky, small towns across America were losing their identity as downtowns gave way to strip malls and super-stores. Regardless of the trend, my respect for the unique nature of small towns endures. Whenever I am lost, finding the main street helps me get my bearings.

I come from a newspaper family. My father, born and raised in Canada, was an old-time newsboy on the streets of St. John, New Brunswick. After he emigrated to the U.S., his professional life gravitated toward newspapers, not as a writer or editor but on the advertising side. A capitalist at heart, he understood that newspapers relied on income. After all, news was business.

When I was in sixth grade, my father’s newspaper was purchased by Gannett. In the downsizing that followed, he retired. His newspaper days were over, but he ended his career owning an advertising agency in Princeton, NJ.

What would he say about the state of news in the world today, I wonder. The trend toward consolidation reaches way back to the 1950s, but the public still seems surprised by the disappearance of local papers. A proliferation of Internet sources presents a puzzling array of news choices. Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Pinterest and others are gaining traction with no guarantee of professional standards for accuracy.

Increasingly, local news takes a hit as small papers downsize to improve the bottom line, or disappear into news deserts.

Non-profit news sources are beginning to emerge, based on financial models different from the past. According to an article by Sarabeth Berman in Nieman Lab Predictions for Journalism 2023, “We are beginning to see the maturation of and experimentation by a number of individual organizations showing how nonprofit news can scale.”

The Northern Kentucky Tribune is an outstanding example of a nonpartisan, independent news organization that produces in-depth, informative journalism in the public interest. Being published by them has been an honor. What a privilege to write about western Kentucky for a site focused on the northern region.

For me, the past year has been filled with changes and challenges, including the death of my husband. Although “retirement” is not a word in my vocabulary, “transition” is. As I strive to create a vision of my own future, I must make space in my life for change.

That said, this is my last Main Street for a while. I cherish my work with NKyTrib and am grateful to Jacob Clabes and Judy Clabes for their patience and confidence in me. Moreover, I cheer readers everywhere who have become acquainted with my work through them. Writing is the core of my life and I will persist but, in the true spirit of the season, it is out with the old and in with the new, at least until I figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life.

As the days grow longer and the dark dissipates, here’s hoping that 2024 brings peace and light and joy to all.

Happy New Year!

Constance Alexander is an award-winning poet and playwright. She is also a founding board member of The Murray Sentinel. 

This article was originally published by the Northern Kentucky Tribune. 

Sentinel Staff

Jessica Paine
I’m Jessica Paine, founder of The Murray Sentinel. You may know me from my time as a citizen journalist, running the Calloway Covid-19 Count page on Facebook, or you may be familiar with my more recent work for another local news outlet. Being that I’m “from here,” you may have known me since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper,” although you knew me as Jessica Jones. But whether you know me or not, I’m glad you found your way here.


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