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Darren Johnson

Major newspapers all over the country are slashing staff, some are closing down. The written word is increasingly, exponentially, moving to the web and devices like Kindle. And there’s a big recession going on where consumers are questioning every purchase that’s not an immediate necessity. Print newspapers — as there are other, free, electronic options — are in that category for most people today.
So who would be crazy enough to start a print newspaper today, here in 2010?
(Raises hand enthusiastically.)
You’re holding the first edition of Community College Campus News, a newspaper that, at the drawing board, had taken many forms as I debated on my popular 631Media web sites what to do. At first, I was thinking a PDF publication to the huge mailing lists I’ve developed. That seemed state-of-the-art. Then I considered a small-circulation magazine that a niche audience would pay for; perhaps similar to my 1990s literary magazine Rocket Press, which, like most other small-press mags of that era and before, lost the wind in its sails as the Internet became a reality for more people. Rocket Press wasn’t a horrible magazine, though, and got a few hundred subscribers at one point and submissions from some top poets of the day.
A hometown newspaper? We already have a lot of those where I live and work. Plus, I’m always worried about conflicts of interest as I work for public colleges. In the late 90s or so, I’d tried a few pilot issues of a paper devoted to a town I was living in at the time called The Greenport Report (later titled The Twin Forks Report), but wasn’t good at ad sales at the time and let it fade away. Those publications are so obscure, google searches find nothing. But I remember the pride I had seeing people reading my newspaper at local laundromats and restaurants.
A book? Maybe I’ll do that again some day, but one I wrote as an angst-filled young adult was published back in the day and the $1000 or so it generated really wasn’t worth all the work that went into it. Plus, if I wrote the kinds of books people really want to read, I’d probably be fired from any university job I had at the time. Real life is not always politically correct. At least it wasn’t from my lower-middle-class, Upstate background. I always kid that my next poetry chapbook will be titled, “Poems That Will Get Me Fired From the University.” Maybe if I ever get tenured.
A web site? Been there. Done that. My 631Media family of web sites get 10,000 views a day and are very popular and influential in Suffolk County, Long Island, NY.  The main draw is a political posting board site, 631Politics, but I also have other types of media there, including 631Radio, an 80’s alternative/punk/new wave station that’s currently No. 45 in the country in its genre vs. many hundred. While the sites are well-trafficked, and when I first started college teaching I was assigned to courses like Writing With Computers and HTML, it’s not my first love.
And, I decided, at 40, which I turned the day before the date listed on this paper, I was going to create a media entity that has a special place in my heart. Not that the other ventures don’t have meaning, and have helped and entertained tens of thousands of people. Just print journalism is a big part of who I am. I can’t give up on the marriage just yet.
In the earliest photograph of me that I own, I am in a diaper, in a walker, clutching a newspaper like most kids clutch a rattle. As I kid, I made mock newspapers — did every aspect. Drew the cartoons, wrote the obits and advice columns, laid it out. Then I had a door-to-door paper route. It took me a while longer to accomplish than the other kids because I’d actually read the paper while I delivered it.
In high school study halls, I’d read the New York tabloids, having bought them before school. I was in the Explorers, a high school internship-type program that met at the Utica Observer-Dispatch daily newspaper. Because I played on the football team, I wrote sports for my high school paper.
I debated whether to go to college for an English department Writing program at Southampton College or Mass Media at Plattsburg. I chose the former while writing for my college paper, taking any journalism class I could find, and, to pay my bills, delivering The New York Times. Yes, I would read that, too, daily while delivering it. Then I went on to be a reporter and editor for mostly community newspapers, with some freelance placements at larger papers. Won some awards. Then got into teaching and advising the craft to community college students. Soon, I realized I actually could sell ads, as the campus paper I advised didn’t have a students who could handle that end. Writing, publishing, ad sales. My skill set was complete.
While I have degrees in English and am well-versed in literature, MY literature is newspapers, especially print newspapers. So I’m not about to give up on that even though every talking head says that’s what I should do.
Every town I visit — large and small — I pick up all the hometown newspapers and read them beginning to end. Even though I don’t live in those places and have no pragmatic reason to know about the people who live there, I do have a hard-to-describe need to know about the cop who made a water rescue, the sick kid who got an organ donation just in time, the super market clerk who hit the lottery (these winners always say they are keeping their day jobs – sure!). It’s as if, by seeing these stories in print — even though I am anonymous to the writers of and the people in the stories — I am giving them and their work value. They all are important.
Any community that has a newspaper can’t be bad — or else no one would read that paper. Why read about a place you could not care less about? A newspaper ultimately is about expressing the value of a community. By reading that paper, we celebrate that success and belief in the value of mostly ordinary people.
So, here I am bringing you a community paper focused on community colleges, which have a high, often unrealized, value in educating and training the people in our communities. It’s where journalism programs are largely at risk, along with their newspapers. And, as an educator, the community college population is one I know a lot about. I enjoy these students more than the ones I used to teach at a fancy four-year school. They are diamonds in the rough, often, and have so much potential ahead of them. They are students I can work with, build confidence in, have a laugh – and hearty debates – with.
Community College Campus News will be distributed at New York’s downstate two-year campuses. It won’t compete with existing campus newspapers — we journalists all need each other to survive. We’ll distribute most of our papers to campuses that are not served or underserved by a regularly published campus paper. And if you work for the latter, contact us – we’ll give you the contact info of our advertisers. Perhaps they will advertise with you, too, helping you increase the size of your publication.
Also, our stories will be different. CCCN will aim to bring general interest stories to community college students in a larger region than any one campus paper can do.
So pick up CCCN news the first of each month, along with your campus paper (if you have one). Get involved.
By reading your campus newspaper (and maybe by submitting stories to us), you’re showing you really do care about this community. That the stories and people in here do matter.
Contact us any time at or