We live in an age when the news itself--local journalism, online news, newspapers, fake news--is a whole topic category all by itself. News media didn't use to be so self-referential. Reporters just went out and got stories and wrote them. Something was "news" because it sold papers, or got ratings--nowadays, because it gets hits and clicks. But what, exactly, makes a piece of information actual "news?"

Is news simply anything that will interest people enough to make them buy a periodical, change a channel or click on a link? Does that mean that celebrity gossip, opinion pieces, and profiles of people with unusual hobbies are all news?

Are crimes, disasters, accidents, and deaths always news, even if they happen in faraway places, to total strangers, and don't affect anyone not directly involved?

We have an absorbing curiosity about other people, especially prominent people or those who are wealthier and seemingly luckier than we are. And we have a morbid fascination with the tragic side of life. These have always filled news media and paid a lot of its production expenses. People zoom in on these kinds of stories even when they have no effect at all on their personal situations.

But what about things that may not be exciting, or dramatic, or titillating, but which have direct impact on our everyday lives, our personal prosperity, our health, our families and our homes? It's funny how much of that kind of news doesn't get reported, or at least doesn't get much attention. Bills passed in the state legislature or in Congress; ongoing discussions of town committees and boards; the workings of school departments; events in our own neighborhoods. Being aware of these things is part of being a responsible citizen--not to mention necessary if we don't want unwelcome surprises when it's far too late to file an objection or make changes.

My view is that a local newspaper exists to keep its readers apprised of what's happening in their own towns that will directly impact their lives. Too many people only realize some major project or expense is on the table when they come to Town Meeting. Too many people rely on Facebook chatter to find out what's going on when they hear sirens or the power fails or a water main breaks.

The secondary function of a local newspaper, in my view, is community building--highlighting the social and recreational activities that bring us together and make a cluster of houses a community. These may seem like "fluff" or "soft news" to some. But these stories affirm the value of who we are. Who would want a Winchendon newspaper to contain nothing but the police log, obituaries and reports about accidents and board meetings?

I hope that the Winchendon Courier is balancing both kinds of news: community reporting and community building. I hope that as time goes on, we'll be reporting more and more of both. Some weeks will tend more to one type of news than the other, depending on what is going on. But I hope the Courier will always have something of value for everyone in Toy Town. After all--it really belongs to you.

Inanna Arthen