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One of the most important educational agencies of the rural community is the oft-derided weekly newspaper. After a period of difficult competition with city dailies the surviving weeklies are becoming recognized as community institutions. Those which are succeeding are doing so by becoming the voice of the community and the means of its self-acquaintance. No agency may be more powerful in unifying or disrupting the life of the local community. This new concept of the country weekly has been well expressed by W. P. Kirkwood, of the University of Minnesota:

      "Community building was a concept unknown to the editor of thirty or forty years ago. To-day it is an accepted concept of dynamic force, full of significance in most of the country towns of America.

      "Community service, as such a concept, is fast finding its way into the country press--in the Middle West, at least. As this ideal gains acceptance, giving definite direction to newspaper effort for the upbuilding of communities, the press gains an enlarged constituency with a truer conception of the power and usefulness of the newspaper....

      "Community service, community building, then, as a master motive, establishes the country weekly newspaper publisher securely in his position of leadership. It assures added community prosperity and the local development of the finer satisfactions of life in which he must share, and no other agency can take this from him, neither the city daily, coming in from a distance and concerned with the larger affairs of the larger community, nor the school, nor the church, nor any other."[44]

In a bulletin on "The Country Weekly in New York State,"[45] Professor M. V. Atwood, of the New York State College of Agriculture and for several years a successful publisher, discusses the purposes and future of the country weekly. He holds that the country weekly is not, as often stated, and should not be a molder of public opinion, but should rather express and interpret the sentiment of its constituency.

      "The country newspaper," he says, "is a service agency; it is a community institution like the church, the school, the library, and the farm and home bureau. It helps all these institutions to do their work....

      "If the country newspaper does not do much thought-molding it does offer a medium for the dissemination of thought, for the propagation of ideas of the people of the community. The value of the newspaper to the community becomes especially apparent when some local project is to be considered, like the erection of a school, the building of good roads, or the installation of a water system. For weeks the paper will offer in the form of letters, the views of different people of the community. The subject is thoroughly aired. Even if the editor takes no sides in the matter, his paper has been of inestimable service to the community."

Indeed, as we shall see later, such a free discussion is a most essential step in all community activities, and the service of the newspaper is probably greater if it acts as a free and open forum for discussion rather than a partisan of either side. Of the news of the future, Professor Atwood says:

      "Most of these papers will also be printing much more farm news than they do to-day because as the publishers have surveyed their fields they will have found the primary interest of their readers is agricultural. There will be some exceptions for some communities will have ceased to be dominated by agriculture because of the coming of factories. The real country weeklies will not become agricultural text hooks; but the news of the farms, the improvements to farm buildings, and the experiences of successful local farmers will find much space in their columns.

      "The community editor of the future is not going to worry much about 'hot' news. He will realize that most of the striking facts of any story have already been printed in the neighboring city papers, but he will realize also that the genuine community interest in the event has not been glimpsed by the city editor, who is out of touch with the local situation; around these community aspects the local editor will weave his story."

Possibly the best appreciation of the country weekly is a prose poem written by Professor Bristow Adams, editor of the New York State College of Agriculture, and presented at the first country newspaper conference held at that institution during Farmers Week 1920, entitled "I am the Country Weekly,"[46] and which vividly depicts its service as an agency for developing community consciousness:

      "I am the Country Weekly.

      "I am the friend of the family, the bringer of tidings from other friends; I speak to the home in the evening light of summers vine-clad porch or the glow of winters lamp.

      "I help to make this evening hour; I record the great and the small, the varied acts of the days and weeks that go to make up life.

      "I am for and of the home; I follow those who leave humble beginnings; whether they go to greatness or to the gutter, I take to them the thrill of old days, with wholesome messages.

      "I speak the language of the common man; my words are fitted to his understanding. My congregation is larger than that of any church in my town; my readers are more than those in the school. Young and old alike find in me stimulation, instruction, entertainment, inspiration, solace, comfort. I am the chronicler of birth, and love and death--the three great facts of man's existence.

      "I bring together buyer and seller, to the benefit of both; I am part of the market-place of the world. Into the home I carry word of the goods which feed and clothe, and shelter, and which minister to comfort, ease, health, and happiness.

      "I am the word of the week, the history of the year, the record of my community in the archives of state and nation.

      "I am the exponent of the lives of my readers.

      "I am the Country Weekly."