A news outlet that reports the good things people do

John Rook, editor of The Cheshire Herald, pauses from his busy job of managing a weekly newspaper.

News as a way of life
If you love to write stories, working for a newspaper is a good job. If you’re interested in uncovering positive news about people in the neighborhood, working for a hometown paper is even better. And, if your heartfelt desire is sharing these stories with the community, writing is no longer a job; it becomes your passion. And that’s probably the best way to spend your work day.

Following his dream
That pretty much describes the outlook of veteran newsman John Rook, newly appointed editor of The Cheshire Herald, the local paper for a mid-sized suburban town of 30,000 residents halfway between the cities of Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut.

As long as he can remember, John loved to write and hoped one day to pen the great American novel. But he was also realistic. John calls his choice of journalism, his “nod to practicality”. Knowing he had to make a living after college, he decided to major in journalism where he could get paid to write stories.
After graduating UCONN, John set his sights set on working in the news business. Although he longed to be part of a big paper like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, he realized he would have to master his craft at a smaller media outlet. And so he headed back to his roots on the Connecticut shoreline, took his writing pad and camera, and pounded the streets for several years as a reporter for the local papers, East Haven Advertiser and Branford Review.

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But what initially seemed like “pay your dues” jobs were slowly changing the direction he wanted his career to follow. The longer he worked at a local newspaper, John realized it was more his style. Unlike the dailies where you may need to pump out several stories each day, the weekly deadlines allowed him more time to do in-depth article; research what was actually happening; and take a different angle.

Community newspapers are about the individual
“I love telling feature stories,” John said, “about people, about individuals, about the town and that’s something you get to do a large amount of at a weekly newspaper because you’re really telling the story of the community.” While there are always hard news stories to report on like planning and zoning, town council and budget meetings, most of the stories come from the individuals who make up the community – what they’re doing, the causes they’re a part of, the things they’ve done in their lives that nobody knows about. “That was what I found to be the most enjoyable part of the job,“ said John, “meeting new people, hearing their stories and being able to bring their stories to light.”

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There’s a lot of interesting people out there
And there was something else John was learning. He was a natural-born storyteller who loved uncovering unknown and fascinating facts about the lives of the everyday people he met in the towns he covered. While working for the Branford Review, John interviewed a local owner of a new Quizno’s sub shop only to discover he had spent 20 years with the United Nations helping citizens in war-torn countries around the world. Another favorite story was a Mother’s Day piece about a Cheshire family who adopted an orphaned baby girl from China. After reading it, several local families were inspired to look into the process of adopting a child; or the Cheshire dentist and his daughter who spent their vacation working in health clinics in poverty stricken villages across the Dominican Republic.

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“There are so many people in Cheshire giving their time and talents for good causes. I like to read about them,” said one long-time town resident. Many readers of The Cheshire Herald would agree. John often hears that


people new to Cheshire are told to “get a subscription” to learn what’s going on around town. Comments like

these help to validate the work that John and his staff do and also encourage them to continue to seek out interesting people and events in the community.

Weekly newspaper reflects the community
When you think of daily newspapers, “if it bleeds, it leads” is a tried and true formula in reporting the daily news and world events. A daily paper has a lot of ground to cover, a lot of cities, people and events to write about, and a lot of audience to attract each day. Sensationalism sells. So when John was asked what makes The Cheshire Herald different, he replied, “If you work on a weekly, your town is the only beat. You know all the players – those at city hall, board of education, the business owners, student athletes, many of the residents – so naturally when you are doing feature stories, you’re going to write about people who are bringing something interesting, positive and unique to the community.”

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This doesn’t mean he shirks away from a negative issue or conflicting points of view, but his paper reflects the people who live in Cheshire, with emphasis on the good things that happen in town. His guiding philosophy as editor is to always behave as a responsible journalist. John feels it is his professional duty to report when people are not doing the right things or government is not making decisions that benefit the town. He has a firm commitment to keep residents informed about issues that affect their lives.

In a recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, one respondent said, “We learn more about ourselves when we learn about our neighbors. A local newspaper gives a community the opportunity to grieve together; an example is 9/11. It also lets us celebrate the good things – when our teams win, it’s a big deal.”

There’s a place for good news
John believes that people want to read about the good things in their community and the best place to get local coverage is the hometown newspaper. There are plenty of other media outlets for national and world news. He’s comfortable that The Cheshire Herald has a caring audience who want to keep up with local events and know their neighbors who overcome challenges, help others and inspire them to do good in the community.

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During his two years here, John has grown very fond of the town and its people. Looking back, he is satisfied with his decision to report on the people he loves best – the people in his neighborhood. As the editor of a paper in a town he doesn’t live in, John cares deeply about the community he calls his second home. His passion for his craft is exhibited in the stories he chooses to investigate; in his genuine love of the people he writes about; and in his never-ending curiosity in its citizens and the things they do. Perhaps his great American novel will have to wait a bit longer; John’s got a lot of good stories he wants to tell.



Tags: John Rook, community, good news, media, weekly newspaper 

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