Do the dinosaurs still have a mission?

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By Doug Bell

I was a teenage dinosaur.

Actually, I was in my early 20s when an old-school managing editor by the name of Gale Baldwin told me I’d just become the editor of a weekly section that would target readers in the 6-to-11 age bracket.

This was not exactly thrilling news for an ambitious young journalist, but I rounded up the newspaper’s best artist and the kids of a few friends, and we set to brainstorming. I don’t know exactly how many times the word “dinosaur” came up during that discussion, but it became pretty obvious that getting young kids interested in newspapers would have to involve a T-rex or a brontosaurus.

And so, Denny Dinosaur and the Dinosaur Club were born, along with a kids section called Pennywhistle Press. Each week, Denny embarked on an adventure that touched on all sorts of topics important to young readers, bumbling his way through a series of beautifully illustrated calamities and finding the path to a happy ending.

I don’t think anyone gave our little venture much chance for success, and I certainly took my share of ribbing in the newsroom (“Four years of college to write nursery rhymes?” one wag derided).

But the jokes stopped abruptly a few months later. Several thousand kids had signed up to be Junior Dinosaurs, and many of them were submitting their artwork for publication and begging Denny to visit their schools or Cub Scout packs.

One furry green costume later, I found myself in the children’s ward of a local hospital, where we first experienced the true magic of Denny Dinosaur. Little ones, sick and lonely and scared, would instantly become quiet and content when they spied the big green fossil. One 3-year-old, still wailing at the top of his lungs after an injection, promptly smiled and cooed as he reached up and grasped a green finger.

It was the first clue for many of us that newspapers needed to be about more than hard news and sports scores, a lesson I still try to remember every day.

But of course these days, I’m a middle-aged dinosaur. Newspapers and the world of communications are evolving faster than many journalists of my generation can fathom. We’re faced with new competition, the challenge of the Internet and impostors like YourHub.com.

I’ve watched good friends at the Post and Rocky displaced from their jobs as circulation and advertising revenue shrink. And some days, when I think back to a time when being a reporter required only a notebook, a typewriter and a cast-iron liver, it’s hard to imagine how far we’ve come, and exactly where we’re headed.

I get a lot of calls from readers enamored with YourHub. These folks want to know why we won’t print every story that readers want to see, or why we don’t take a more active role in promoting the community.

The reason is simple: Despite new technology, threats to our financial viability, and Internet bulletin boards, our mission as journalists has not changed: We’re here to tell the truth and reflect the reality of our communities — warts and all.

We’re not here to be a mouthpiece for governments, local or national.

We’re not here to print stories about events that aren’t newsworthy.

And we’re not about to compromise our commitment to the truth for any reason, financial or otherwise.

Journalism is about information that matters. YourHub is about any information, significant or not.

So does that may mean we’re a bunch of dinosaurs headed for the bone pile? Perhaps. As another new year dawns, we continue to embrace new platforms and new technology, and I hope you’ll visit our revamped websites and let us know how we’re doing.

But regardless of the platform, our mission will remain the same: Seek the truth, and report it. And to that I might add: Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.

OK, so we may be dinosaurs. But I, for one, am still finding comfort in that.

Doug Bell is the editor of Evergreen Newspapers.