Vital Signs


Back in September, USA Today (circ. 1,400,000), in its equivalent of the man-on-the-street interview, asked citizens at random, "Do we need a federal death penalty for drug-related murders?" That same week, the Adair County 'News-Statesman (circ. 3,800; advertising slogan: "The only newspaper in the world that covers Adair County") asked its man-on-the-street question: "What do you think about this cool weather we're having?" By journalistic standards, these two questions would suggest that a large mass-circulation newspaper is better than a small local newspaper at addressing issues of major significance. But from a less rigid perspective the questions reveal something else: there are places in America where the end of a hot spell just naturally qualifies as "current events." (By the same token, there are places in America where some events are rather less current than the weather. When asked by The News-Statesman, "What is Yom Kippur?" one Adair Counhan responded pointblank, "I never heard of it." Said another,' "I think it has something to do with sweet potatoes.")

The county seat of Adair County is Columbia, home of both The News-Statesman and my parents, who see to it that I never miss an issue. The main thing to know about Columbia is that it is a town of small farms and family businesses located in south-central Kentucky....

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