By: Don Heinzman
These days our news media is under an assault we haven’t experienced in our lifetime. Our president says the media is “the enemy of the people”.
As a 50-year retired community journalist, I fear that even the community press is suffering from this barrage, though research generally shows that the local community respects its local newspaper and web site.
I believe local newspapers have to be more on the offensive these days, using the power of the press more positively.
I challenge publishers and editors to follow the lead of Newspaper Publisher Lynn Smith who founded and inspired a “Don’t Smoke Day” in his community back in January, 1974. His D-Day led to the “Great American Smokeout” still being observed on the third week of November around the country and at different times around the world.
Because of Smith’s anti-cigarette-smoking campaign, thousands of smokers either have reduced their smoking or quit all together.
According to the American Cancer Society, cigarette smoking rates have dropped from 42 percent in 1965 to 15.1 percent in 2015. Still one in five adults continues to smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Of those, the Center says, half will die of smoking-related causes.
Moreover this emphasis on not smoking fostered by Smith is credited in part for the clean-air laws that have been passed in many states.
Robert Karolevitz wrote in his column “Writer at Large” aimed at community newspaper editors: “I doubt that any other weekly editor in the country ever had as much of an impact on so many people across the nation and in other parts of the world as Lynn Smith had.”
In 1974, Smith was editing the Monticello Times with a circulation of 2,500 in a community with 1,800 population.
He was a smoker and had to quit, because of warnings on what smoking cigarettes could do to his health. But he wanted to do more to get others to quit, so just before New Years day in 1974, he wrote a powerful editorial on “The Tyranny of Smoking”: and published it on page 1.
It caught the attention of the state and national media at a time when health experts were warning about smoking being a hazard to your health.
He wanted to do more, so on his own he organized a campaign to get Monticello residents to quit smoking for a day he called “Don’t Smoke Day” (D-Day).
He got Monticello cigarette smokers to sign a pledge not to smoke on Jan. 7, 1974. Four weeks before D-Day, he published on his Page 1 the names of pledge signers along with other supportive stories. Volunteers also secured signed pledges at the schools, hospital and business. A total of 293 signed the wallet-size pledge cards. Smith got the two pharmacies to pull all their cigarettes from their racks and two supermarkets to put their cigarettes under the counter.
Word spread about this campaign, and it became a national story. The Associated Press and national television news companies published the story.
That’s not all. The Minnesota Chapter of the American Cancer Society was so impressed, it organized the first Minnesota D-Day Oct.7 of that year and named Smith the Honorary Chair.
In 1976, California adopted Minnesota’s D-Day plan but changed the name to the Great American Smokeout” That same year Great Britain launched its first national No-Smoking Day.
To this day, Smith’s D-Day is observed as the “Great American Smokeout”, now a national and world-wide event.
Smith wanted to know how many Monticello pledge signers in 1974 had quit smoking because of his D-Day, so he contacted every one that year and learned that 10 percent had quit for good.
Smith became a national spokesman and was invited to give a presentation at the American Cancer Society California National Assembly in San Francisco and to the Third World Conference on Smoking and Health in New York City.
If a publisher of 2,500 readers could use his newspaper so positively, it is my hope his story will inspire you to use your press power more positively to counter the unprecedented attack on the nation’s media.
Here is my challenge for openers. Why not follow Smith’s example the third week of November – the “Great American Smokeout” — and get smokers in your community to quit for a day? You could get smokers to make that pledge not to smoke.
The American Cancer Society says smoking cigarettes and tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the world. You can promote this “Great American Smokeout” even more than you do now in your community. What better gift to give your readers than improving their health by stopping them from smoking.
Don Heinzman is a column writer and a consultant on newsroom management, particularly for beginning community weekly newspaper editors. Contact: email@example.com or 612-986-4729