Last week, we lost a valuable colleague in Ricky DeHerrera, the Optic’s Mora County correspondent for 37 years. He died last week at the too-young age of 65.
His work for this newspaper kept us in touch with current events in Mora, but more than that, his dedication to his community and the Optic brings back memories of how things used to be.
Years ago, small-town newspapers regularly ran news and social items submitted by “country correspondents.” These amateur reporters would collect tidbits of information from their neighbors, muse about the weather or other happenings in their neck of the woods and turn it all in to a newspaper editor, who would then make sure it was published for the larger community of readers to see. About the only qualifications for such a low- or no-paying job was to be connected with your neighbors, have a decent command of the written language and be able to turn in your copy on time.
It was a way in which communities stayed connected, neighbor to neighbor and village to village. There wasn’t anything fancy about it, but it was an effective means of communication. Plus, it served the Optic’s and other newspapers’ interest, because it increased their value for their readers.
As the 20th century brought in other ways to stay connected, these country correspondents slowly fell by the wayside. Now, in this modern world of cell phones, instant messaging, e-mail and the Internet, country correspondents seem to be an antiquated idea, with people such as Ricky DeHerrera irrelevant.
But they haven’t. In recent years, the newspaper industry has been on a downhill slide. As a result, newspaper executives have been scurrying around trying to figure out how to reverse the downward trend. And one thing they’ve realized is that newspaper must protect their No. 1 strength — our ability to cover local news and happening like no other medium.
Maybe the old-time country correspondents won’t be returning exactly as they once were, but a semblance of what they did — they gave a voice to the rural areas of a newspaper’s circulation market — is again being recognized as vital to newspapers’ future. The better small-town newspapers never lost sight of this reality, but now everyone in the business seems to realize it.
WANTED: Someone to cover Mora County for the Las Vegas Optic. It’s a freelance job that requires a commitment to serve Mora Valley residents by giving them a voice in their area newspaper. Qualifications include an ability to write and a strong connection to your community.
Don’t apply if you’re just interested in what it pays. Our man Ricky DeHerrera didn’t do it just for the money; his motivation was to represent his home country in the pages of the Optic, and he did so honorably. We’ll always remember him for such dedication — and, now, we’re looking for someone to fill his shoes as our Mora correspondent. After all, local coverage is what we do best.