Letter to the New Editor
of a Small-Town Newspaper
by Steven Utley
September 18, 1986
Dear Sir,I am a newcomer to your county and your town, having recently, and only too gladly, abandoned a large, and only very arguably major, nearby city to Fate and the land developers. I believe I am going to love it here. Everyone is enormously pleasant-natured and seems not to take things too seriously, which is a good sign, as I’ve always maintained that a community that can laugh at itself will laugh at anything.
I’ve been met everywhere with expressions of friendly sentiment: why, I was barely unpacked before I received a very nice visit from my next-door neighbor, who expressed the hope that my stay would be a happy one, and some mail from a local funeral parlor, expressing the hope that my stay would be a long one as well. I enjoy the clear, quiet nights, the peace, and the fact that what I take to be the original town laundromat is called the Town Laundromat, while the town’s other laundromat is just called the other laundromat.
And I have developed a sincere affection for the Caldwell County Citizen in the brief time that I have been a Caldwell County citizen; accustomed as I am to a big-city newspaper bursting at the seams with human interest, urgency, and courageous public-spiritedness, I had not (forgive me) expected much from a small-town effort that hardly had seams at all. I am happy to say that I have been proved wrong. In fact, I was filled with a keen desire to write to you immediately. A friend of mine, a long-time resident here, suggested that I might wish to establish myself in the community before I publicly expressed opinions, but my reply was that no one truly belongs to a community who does not have an equal chance of being burned out by an irate crowd. She then suggested that I at least not sign my name and finally lost interest altogether when I asked if I might sign hers instead.
In the event, the minimal effort required to examine the September 18th issue of the Citizen has repaid me with treasure beyond my expectations, my hopes — sir, beyond my imaginings! Page 12’s “Houston Man Swan Dives Into Path Of Moving Truck, Lives” is human-interest headline-writing at its best. And one could plough through any amount of big-city newspaper verbiage about gunplay and litigation and still fail to get a sense of urgency as intense as that communicated by the quantity of punctuation in page 6’s “It’s Time To Place Orders For Stock Pond Fish!!!” And one simply must admire the spirit that went into the public-service message on page 4, “Please Drive Careful Near Schools!!” as well as the courage required to print it.
This same September 18th issue also contains a message from the Citizen’s founder to the effect that he is leaving and you are in charge. I trust you will not change a thing. I beg you, in fact.
Cordially yours, etc.
Copyright © 2005 by Steven Utley
Ed. note: Mr. Utley says that the letter was indeed published in the newspaper and swears, “Every word is true, especially the headlines.”