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Story Last modified at 10:25 p.m. on Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Community papers are the heart of real news


In the past 18 months, this community has surprised and charmed me each and every week. From children selling lemonade to raise money for hurricane victims to friends holding a special prom to honor their classmate struggling with cancer, the goodness that exists in Chugiak and Eagle River is palpable. It makes me content to call this place home, and proud to be a part of recording these moments.

There are sad moments too – when a family of five is wiped out in a plane crash, when a man is murdered and dumped along a river in Eagle River, when a car crash claims the life of a child. At those times, though, the community unites, and still, remarkably, tightens its bonds.

When I took over as editor here in late October 2009, the learning curve was steep and ruthless. With a two-person editorial staff, we had to write, edit and produce a paper full of photos, news and features each week. Every Tuesday resulted in the same daunting deadline, pushing to make sure every piece of information readers received was accurate and as up-to-date as a weekly newspaper can possibly be.

In the dead of the cold winter Tuesday nights of 2009, the lights would be on in our office into the wee hours, getting the job done.

This year, the Alaska Star celebrates its 40th year as our community newspaper. In its inaugural edition, launched on Jan. 14, 1971, Birchwood resident Lee Jordan introduced this community to his creation, the Chugiak-Eagle River Star. The paper represented a vision he had for our area – to be a voice of the residents here, not those of Anchorage to the south or the Valley to the north.

Jordan recognized that our community is unique. He wanted the Eagle Scout projects to be recognized, the small businesses to thrive and the everyday kindness of our residents to be highlighted.

"I started the paper because I was disappointed with the lack of coverage of local issues by the Anchorage media," he told the Star in 2010.

In the pages of his first edition, Jordan let readers know his goals for the paper, his reasons for undertaking so huge a task as putting out a weekly newspaper.

"We are proud of this community," he wrote in his first editorial. "It has been built by pioneering, independent, strong-willed outspoken, dedicated, honest, hardworking citizens.

"This community," he went on, "is destined to stand out."

And it has.

Jordan changed the name of the newspaper in 1995 to the Alaska Star, in an effort to reach a larger audience, and sold the paper five years later, in 2000, after nearly 30 years of running it independently.

Since then, many editors have sat at his desk, myself included. During this time, I have become attached to the paper in a way that I think Jordan must have. Getting the news – be it meeting information, local features, sports stories, police activity or listings of what's happening in our community – to readers is key, and representing the intensely local issues of our times is imperative. As Jordan noted back in 1971: Anchorage media didn't cover local issues back then. And unless it's major news, they don't do it now.

This is my last week at the paper, and hopefully the next editor will fill the same role, protecting with veracity the need for a local newspaper to serve as the voice of our community.

We all know we can go to Google to get our statewide, national or international news. But nowhere else will we see our kids' baseball games covered or the talent show at the nearby school, or the fundraiser for a local cause.

That's what the Alaska Star has been about since Lee Jordan started up that first press run. And, with community support and tenacity, that's what it hopefully will continue to do for years to come.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, June 8, 2011.