Jessica Sieff: Power of the (small) press

Published 9:53 pm Wednesday, March 14, 2012

For those who think small papers and old-fashioned journalists just don’t have a place in new media, let Marilyn Hagerty serve as a lesson to the lot of you. An inadvertent lesson, but a lesson still.

The 85-year-old columnist for the Grand Forks Herald in Grand Forks, N.D., was just doing her job when she sat down at a new restaurant in her community to write a review. She had no inclination as she pulled out her trusty notebook and began to jot down a few notes that eventually “The Today Show” would be calling, along with CNN.

But that restaurant happened to be an Olive Garden, and it got a favorable review from Hagerty. Her review was noticed by at least 700,000 people. Some of them thought her review ridiculous; some thought it charming.

I’m pretty sure Olive Garden thought all the attention was pretty nice and pretty free.

I thought it was an example of just how important the power of good old-fashioned journalism really is. And an example of why I hope readers really value what goes into this paper every single day.

On its own size and scale, Marilyn Hagerty brought a fresh perspective to her column. She wrote it up as she would have done any story. Her account was honest and accurate to her experience there. And she wasn’t doing anything different than she does every single day.

The only thing different was this time — everyone noticed.

Maybe it’s because the majority of Americans think it silly that someone in Grand Forks, N.D., would not be familiar with a national chain. Maybe they thought it was funny. Maybe they completely disagreed and think Olive Garden food is not even column worthy.

Whatever the reason, Hagerty’s story proves that even small press can get noticed in the big pool of social/new/whatever-you-want-to-call-it media. Her column probably got more attention for the restaurant chain than a day’s worth of ordinary tweets about its menu. And it didn’t cost them a dime.

Yesterday, it was a review of an Olive Garden in Grand Forks. Maybe tomorrow some young journalist will take on a small, innovative tech company in his or her back yard.

Communities function within certain familiarities. Schools, city government, development, law and crime, events and business. Sometimes, the themes are common. Small businesses struggling to survive in the shadow of bigger businesses, city governments trying to manage their jurisdictions for the betterment of their citizens, the law and law enforcement trying to keep those citizens safe.

Every day journalists like Marilyn Hagerty and the hardworking ones here in Niles get up and try to attack what might even be routine — pageants and community functions and public meetings — with a fresh perspective.

And maybe the big-time-social-monstery-tweeterific-whatever-you-call-it media doesn’t pick up their stories.

But here’s hoping you do.

And for crying out loud – don’t knock the chicken Alfredo before you try it.