The Coastal Federation’s recent acknowledgment of the Ocracoke Observer for outstanding coverage of the impacts of Hurricane Dorian which devastated Ocracoke Island last year, is testimony of the importance of a local newspaper.
The award, created by the N.C. Coastal Federation in 2003, recognizes individuals, businesses and organizations for furthering coastal stewardship. It is interesting that the news coverage provided by the Ocracoke Observer was singled out for recognition since the paper and its staff were simply doing what all good local newspapers do – providing coverage of news and events for the community the paper serves. But the recognition is appreciated none the less, by not only the Observer’s owners and staff, but also by other members of the press.
“In the face of devastating challenges when Ocracoke Island bore the brunt of Hurricane Dorian’s landfall,” the Coastal Federation’s press release notes, “Observer publishers Peter Vankevich and Connie Leinbach worked diligently to deliver important and often vital information to island residents. They also served as helpful sources for Coastal Review, the Washington Post and other news media in reporting to the world the situation on the island.”
It is not often, sadly, that local newspapers such as the Ocracoke Observer are recognized beyond their own community for the outstanding work they do continuously. Though the paper only publishes monthly, its services as noted by the Coastal Federation’s recognition, are vital not only to the paper’s immediate community but also to areas beyond.
The work done by the publishers is obviously a work of passion. Why else would they continue to ply their trade while they were also dealing with the devastation caused by the hurricane to their own homes and business? The answer is obvious - it was their mission and passion to continue to tell the stories of their community.
Ocracoke is fortunate to have two such committed observers such as Connie Leinbach and Peter Vankevich and a publication that is dedicated to the community. Not all communities are so lucky.
Ms. Leinbach is a transplant from Reading, Pa. where she worked for nine years as a reporter for the Reading Eagle. Mr. Vankevich, likewise a transplant to the island, retired from the Library of Congress where he worked as head of the copyright division. In 2014, concerned that their new found home warranted a dependable source of community news, they became the third owners of the weekly paper which has provided local coverage of the island since 1999.
The fact that they have intentionally chosen the island as their home and to be its news source is an indication that they are making more than a passing effort for their community. As noted, it is obviously a passion for them.
The recognition by the Coastal Federation of the publishers and their paper is important because it verifies the value of such publications. As the news industry deals with its own hurricane of disruption caused by the internet and social media, it is ironic that community newspapers such as the Observer continue to thrive by providing news and information that is vital for health and growth of their respective communities.
This resiliency to continue to ply the trade of newspapering and news reporting as the industry’s obituary is being written, brings to mind the famous cable Samuel Clemmons, a.k.a. Mark Twain, sent to the U.S. Press while visiting London. Informed that his obituary had been mistakenly published, Clemmons cabled, “the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” That statement applies to community newspapers such as the Ocracoke Observer and thousands of other local newspapers across the country that continue to do the vital work of community journalism.
We applaud the Ocracoke Observer for its continued effort to provide dependable news coverage of the community as Hurricane Dorian left behind a decimated community. Despite immense difficulties the Observer went to press in October providing vital information for the community and the region. We also thank the members of the Coastal Federation for acknowledging the work that Ms. Leinbach and Mr. Vankevitch, and by extension all local newspapers are doing continuously.
The first issue of the Observer immediately following Dorian’s devastating landfall on the island presciently quoted author Michael Connelly on its editorial page, “A newspaper is the center of a community. It’s one of the tent poles of the community and that is not going be replaced by websites and blogs.”