Should “town columns” be a thing of the past?

Nearly four years ago, when I started writing the Locke’s Mills column for the Bethel Citizen, I was excited to have a weekly platform from which I could not only help my neighbors to keep abreast of happenings in our small town, but also reminisce, ramble, and report on just about any topic that interested me.

As I wrote back then in a blog post about taking over the column, “For writers, the weekly column is often considered to be a sort of holy grail—the most sought-after outlet for their writing. After all, as Peter Cole wrote for The Guardian, columns are ‘defined by ownership; the column “belongs” to its author who has that ultimate journalistic luxury, a slot, guaranteed space over which he or she presides and has, in some cases, near total control over content.’”   

(If you missed that post, or want to revisit it, click here to read “I Heart Locke’s Mills—and I have a column!” from March 24, 2015.)  

In the tradition of many of the Citizen’s local correspondents over the years, I have filled my column with a lot of personal musings. In particular, since I became an enthusiastic day hiker a few years ago, I have written about my hiking adventures, whether solo or in the company of other humans and/or Eli the Wonder Pup. 

I have also written about local history, the weather, seasonal changes in the day’s length, and a host of other topics. 

With the newspaper under new editorship, changes are inevitable, and one of those changes is a reduction in the space to be devoted to the so-called “town columns.” Local correspondents have been asked to adhere to a “just the facts, ma’am” format, to concentrate on actual local news (imagine!) and to keep our columns to 300 words or less. (That’s about the length of this introduction, so far.)

From reading today’s Bethel Citizen, I’ve learned that at least one local correspondent is giving up her column, and I won’t be surprised if others join her. In fact, I considered it, too.

 But I’ve decided to continue writing a (much briefer) column for the paper, because I want to make sure that when there are events in Locke’s Mills, there is a space to promote them, and because I want the tradition of local columns to continue in the Citizen, even if they are no longer the homey, chatty forums many readers have enjoyed for decades.  

Since I still expect to have far more to say than I can fit into 300 words, I’ll use this blog to supplement my newspaper column, and try to post here as regularly as I can. 

So, welcome to my loyal Bethel Citizen readers! Here’s this week’s Locke’s Mills newspaper column, my last without space and content restrictions:


Locke’s Mills, 12/27/18

I hope everyone had a good Christmas! Since I’m writing this on the Sunday before, I can’t tell you about the actual day, but the days leading up to it have been filled with family, food, and fun, so I’m expecting more of the same for the holiday itself.

The biggest challenge of the season has been keeping Eli the Wonder Pup away from the tree, the bottom half of which has gradually become bare as we’ve moved one ornament after another up higher, out of his reach.

Overset EliEli was particularly naughty on Friday, when he missed his daily hike due to the pouring rain that lasted all day. I made up for it on Saturday by taking him for a long walk in the continuing drizzle while uncle and aunties Will, Annie, and Cait were off to Boston for the day to visit niece Lila and her parents.

Sunday was a much nicer day, and Will, Tony, Eli, and I hiked to and around Overset Pond, which wore all of us out in good shape.  Overset Will

I’m sorry to say that this will be my last lengthy, chatty Locke’s Mills column, at least for the time being. All of the local columnists received word last week that, due to financial and space constraints, beginning with next week’s paper, our columns should be no longer than 300 words and should “talk about what is going on in your towns (as opposed to personal things).”

For comparison, my column has usually run at least twice that length, and occasionally, when I’m especially verbose (like this week), up to 1,000 words, so this will mean quite a change for me.

When I first took over this column, nearly four years ago, I planned from the outset to make it a mix of announcements of upcoming events, whatever local news I could gather at places like the post office and The Local Hub, and informal chatter about whatever struck my fancy.

After all, I was following in a long tradition of Bethel Citizen correspondents who, each week, shared their adventures, big and small, as well as those of their families, friends, and even their pets.

What longtime reader of this paper can forget Viva (Yates) Whitman’s reports, back in the 1980s and early ‘90s, on the doings of the Yates siblings, among them Russell (Joe), Linona (Peggy), and Laura? They were all senior citizens at the time, and their activities consisted mainly of visiting back and forth and driving each other to doctor’s appointments, although I do remember an episode involving brother Russell’s search for a particular brand of footwear that seemed to stretch over several weeks.

Lorraine (Mills) Larson wrote the Locke’s Mills column for many years, and during that time we probably knew as much about the personalities and misadventures of her cats and dogs as we did about those of our own pets.

Past correspondents from far-flung places like Magalloway and Wilson’s Mills shared their news, and although I didn’t know anyone in those places, I read every word.

And, of course, for several decades there were Colista Morgan’s columns, written from the shores of her beloved pond in Greenwood City, detailing that week’s outdoor adventures, by foot or in her trusty rowboat.

Although my parents were both Mainers (my father grew up in Bethel and graduated from Gould Academy in 1930), they met and raised their family in Connecticut. We spent every summer at our camp on North Pond, but I had the misfortune, the rest of the year, of growing up in exile, homesick for what I knew was my true “spiritual home.”

It was Mrs. Morgan’s column, more than any other, that helped me to stay connected to the woods and ponds and mountains during those long ten-month stays in wretched suburbia, and when I was about 12 years old, I wrote to her to tell her how much her weekly essays meant to me. (It pains me to admit it, but I believe that I also included a few of my angst-filled adolescent poems in that first letter.)  Colista note

She wrote back, and thus began a correspondence that would last for 30 years.

Fifty-two of Mrs. Morgan’s essays were later published by the Bethel Citizen in a wonderful collection called Pond

Colista bookReflections, and copies of the book are still available from the Greenwood Historical Society.

Except for hiking, I don’t tend to get out all that much, and with the exception of notifications about upcoming events like meetings and programs, I rarely receive news from my neighbors that they want included here. In fact, I’m more often told, by someone I’ve been chatting with in the post office who has suddenly remembered that I write for the paper, “Now, I don’t want to see this show up in your column!”

With the dearth of actual local news, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s true that I have probably gone on a bit too much about “personal things,” like my hiking adventures, gardening, bird-watching, my incredibly adorable and intelligent granddaughter, and, yes, even my cats.

However, it’s also true that, nearly everywhere I go, people ask me about something they’ve read in this space, or tell me that my column is the first thing they read when they receive the paper.

If you enjoy my writing, I hope you’ll become a follower of my blog, which you can find on line at I’ve had the blog for several years, but for the past couple of years I haven’t been posting much. With this column soon to be restricted to a shorter format, I hope to post on line more regularly, both to provide myself with a creative outlet and to supplement the local news found here.

And please do share your local news with me so I can include it here—I don’t want this column to disappear entirely. Contact me via email at, by phone at 207-890-4812, or find me on Facebook or in person around town. Thanks for reading!

Overset all of us

“The definition of Brevity: That which people believe would be a virtue—in me!” – Greg Curtis

5 thoughts on “Should “town columns” be a thing of the past?

  1. At the risk of being accused of fogeydom, I must say that the changes in the Citizen are not improvements. We, like others from away, rushed to buy the paper on our way in from our work week in the city on Friday night and settled in beside the fire to read the local columns, especially Colista Morgan’s. The descriptions of every day events in family, community and on the ponds and hillsides were the best testimonial to the “Life as it should be” perspective. Thanks for your contributions to this tradition, Amy.

  2. We always enjoyed the columns section in the newspaper to see what was going on around us. Lyn Chapmans column of Gilead was always of interest and had the sense of community.. I afraid the censoring and reduction in length of the columns will take away from the feel of a local paper. In a world that seems to becoming more and more polarized. We need to keep a place where we have the emotions and closeness available that the paper is now limiting. Thank all of the writers for their sharing of personal thoughts and events. I hope this recent ruling will revert back to what made the paper what it was,,,homey.

  3. Amy, we have enjoyed reading about your adventures and will tune in to this page. Although I have quit writing my column, I hope to do more with FB on my own page and the Gilead Historical Society’s page. Have not quite decided what to do yet.

  4. Weekly columns from local towns should be continued. This is what makes a local paper going. Many people near and far (including me) keep in touch with town news via our local columnists. Let our local columnists continue to write their thoughts and events in their own way.

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