OPINION: Today marks the 150th anniversary of The Southland Times.
A newspaper can scarcely be healthier, happier, more vibrant than the community from which it draws life and to which it seeks to contribute, however imperfectly.
We all need our stories to be told and our voices to be heard, as individuals and collectively, sometimes just among ourselves and sometimes further afield. We need reporting that offers accurate facts and then opens them up for people to figure out their significance. To debate and disagree - ardently but fairly. We also need a forum to encourage as well as challenge one another. To entertain, share knowledge or ask good questions out loud.
We need forums to resolve courses of action and to pursue them; constantly testing the validity of that course against a clear knowledge of what in our lives needs to be changed and improved. Or protected and savoured.
Looking back over the decades and generations throughout which the Times, and The Southland Daily News which we took over in 1968, have reported southern life, it becomes clear that, nostalgia duly acknowledged, we have grown and developed as a news organisation.
It didn't happen easily, or automatically. It was a hard-won achievement. We're talking about more than internal management, profound though our gratitude should be for the intelligent decency of the Gilmour family, who as owners and managers steered the paper so well for generations before ownership passed to Independent Newspapers Ltd and then Fairfax.
The Times' survival so far has been founded in large part on knowing that, much as it needs to find its own editorial voice, it must be reactive to the guidance of its readers.
Sometimes the messages we receive are conflicted but generally this relates to methodologies rather than ideologies. For all that our society is becoming more diverse, the guidance the Times receives from our readers is underpinned by the core values that line up pretty well.
We should also be thankful for the way the south was - eventually - populated. Yes, we're talking about the easily mocked colonial British Government system, and the arrival of settlers who came here as a matter of choice, and a brave one at that. They showed up with a strong idea of the sort of lives they wanted to live, the society they wanted to develop and how hard they were willing to work to achieve it all.
Looking back, for all that we are entitled to see social progress we should acknowledge out loud that we had a fabulous start. We are the inheritors of so much that is good in our lives.
Our environment is so much less scarred by old follies to be found in societies that have been standing so much longer than ours. Our psyches are less burdened by sour and ancient hatreds brought about by generations of internal conflicts.
At times we have been slow to learn new lessons, though the upside is we have been less prone to succumb to fashionable follies. The old political description of the "solid, sensible south" was probably intended to flatter, but it is one we should accept anyway and try to live up to.
Amid the imperatives of changing times the way we communicate our stories is developing. We now have - all of us - the near-instant capabilities of online coverage. This adds much, particularly through the capacity for our readers to connect with stories, comment on them, and to play a more active part in the process themselves. This is exciting.
But then so is the ancient ability - still as precious as ever - of the written word to communicate not only facts, but ideas.
- The Southland Times
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