In this holiday season, I have much to be thankful for. At least that’s the way I see it, though others may call me crazy for what I consider my blessings.

Skip past this column right now unless you’re OK with a little self-indulgence while I talk about what we do here at The Smoky Mountain News. I mean, it’s an odd business: we gather information from throughout the region — news from various sources and paid advertisements from businesses — package it in print and online, and give it away each week in hopes you’ll read and find what we do relevant, useful and interesting so we can do it again next week.

By Frank Queen • Guest Columnist

I was surrounded by newspapers growing up. Dad worked for the government in the 1960s and we lived in Alexandria, a suburb of D.C. Every day we had five newspapers delivered to the house.

Dad started reading when he got home and only stopped to eat supper. You could try to talk to him when he was reading, but he didn’t hear you unless you could get him to lower the paper. If you wanted to hang around with him, you might as well sit down and pick up a paper yourself.

On Thursday, Dec. 4, 1941, newspapers in Western North Carolina revealed cities in full holiday swing — ads for Philco tube radios, canned Christmas hams and silk stockings filled their pages, along with announcements for holiday parties and special sales.

When the back-to-back national political conventions finally ended, it was like a benevolent deity had provided a merciful pardon, finally allowing me to move away from the television and get on with my life. Those two weeks are one of the few times when I tend to watch way too much TV.

But as we prepare for the start of school, my wife (a teacher) and I have discussed a couple of times the comments by Donald Trump Jr. at the GOP event regarding teachers. In case you forgot or missed them, here’s what Junior — educated exclusively in private schools — had to say:

op frWhat’s your dream job? Recent college graduates are perhaps honing in on the difficult task of searching for a satisfying career, but I’m standing at my desk today thinking “what next?” I’m 55, and for the last 16 years I’ve had my dream job. I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather have done during that time than own and edit a weekly newspaper in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

Not that I’m moving onto something different soon (much to the chagrin, I’m sure, of many readers and some of our staff). It’s just that time of year when my concentration begins to wander off track, thinking about where this newspaper is headed and what the future may hold, both journalistically and from a business perspective.

op frGoogle is a wonderful thing, but it sometimes makes things harder for journalists. That’s why a new emphasis on transparency among newspapers and news sites may be one of the measures that helps save real journalism and differentiates it from all that other stuff out there on the web.

“In the digital world, where information is infinite and infinitely replicable, being transparent … helps distinguish journalism from other content on the web,” writes Martin Moore, the executive director of the Media Standards Trust, in a blog post that listed the arguments in favor of transparency.

op frWhen National Newspaper Week (Oct. 5-11) was started 74 years ago, there wasn’t much competition for newspapers. If you didn’t read the paper, you just didn’t know what was going on around the world or in your hometown.

Now that’s not the case. Internet search engines have put thousands of news sites at our fingertips. Social media helps us keep up with friends and family and whole communities of like-minded people.

Haywood County commissioners weighed the merits of saving money versus government transparency this week.

State law requires counties and towns to publish notices of meetings, public hearings and contracts going out to bid in the local newspaper of record. Newspapers charge a fee to print the notices, which add up to $20,000 to $30,000 a year for Haywood County alone.

op frThe “fractured public square” refers to the loss of the place where a community discusses ideas, politics and values. The ideal public square can be both a bonding agent and a place where one draws a line in the sand. It’s not necessarily a physical place, but it might be.

What happens when there is no public square, when it keeps fracturing and breaking into smaller places and smaller forums? I’m afraid we are on the way to finding out.

In several counties in Western North Carolina, a showdown between the printed word and the digital age could soon take place. A bill has passed the N.C. Senate that allows some town and county governments in the region to opt out of placing legal and public notices in the community newspapers of record and instead put them on a government website.

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