History can be a blast

One of the things I’ve always tried to keep in mind as a journalist is the role the profession plays in recording history. That sounds a little high and mighty, doesn’t it? But in a lot of cases, it’s true.

News by definition is something out of the ordinary, the unexpected, the tragic. Yes, it can also mean something interesting without any of the more “hard news” aspects as a story. Feature stories fall into that category. Telling how something happened that may not have affected thousands or millions of people, the planet or any other species we share the earth with can still be important and worth reading.

I recently spent a lot of time looking back at some local history. Where I live on Colorado’s Front Range, two adjoining communities are both celebrating their 50th anniversaries of incorporation this year. So researching and writing a couple of stories about the parallel paths founders of both cities took — voters in each area passed incorporation ballot measures within a week of each other in 1969 — was fun and interesting.

Much of my research was through the archives of small community newspapers who reported on the two efforts to become cities, so that was an added interest for me as a journalist. I’ve always liked looking through the pages of old newspapers.

They were so very different from more recent newspapers I wrote for and even helped create. It takes me back in time when I see how the stories were written and presented to readers, as well as what advertisers were selling products for a half-century ago.

The front page of the local newspaper the day after Jefferson City, Colorado, was incorporated in 1969. The community changed its name to Lakewood shortly after it was formed. Photo Mike McKibbin.
The front page of the local newspaper the day after Jefferson City, Colorado, was incorporated in 1969. The community changed its name to Lakewood shortly after it was formed. Photo Mike McKibbin.

Those newspapers chronicled the creation of two communities through the public participation process so crucial to a functioning democracy. It was a kick to recount much of what those reporters wrote about and help give today’s readers a feel for what happened.

I also talked to a few of the surviving incorporation backers and first law enforcement officers who signed on to help protect the new cities. Some of the first steps they took didn’t always turn out right, but they worked things out. All part of their local history.

Researching information and events that happened long before the creation of our online world means more leg work than many stories need nowadays. But I was reminded again there is often no substitute for getting out and beating the bushes for a story. When you actually see what a community has become and how it remembers its past, it gives you a sense of reality you try to portray in your story.

This was a fun part of the journalistic process I’ve always enjoyed. Learning the facts, hearing the stories and seeing the results. Then telling that story the best way possible. Recounting past trials, tribulations, challenges, defeats and victories.

It’s all about history and history rocks, you know?

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