- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2006

ROCKWOOD, Tenn.

Roxie McClendon gets her news from visitors to the retirement home or from phone calls, then passes it along in her column in the weekly Rockwood Times.

She has been writing her regular society column since she was 75 — not a bad run, considering she turned 103 last month.

Mrs. McClendon is an institution in this eastern Tennessee town of about 5,700. Like other small-town columnists, she writes about the social lives of everyday people in her community — their out-of-town guests, family reunions and Sunday dinners.

No one keeps an exact count of how many society columns still exist, but they appear to be dwindling, along with detailed wedding and birth announcements. The shift to a faster-paced, online news environment is thought to play a role in the change, as is the passing of a graying generation of society mavens.

“There is no one like Miss Roxie. She’s just a force out there,” said editor Terri Likens of the Roane County News, which publishes the Rockwood paper.

Many columnists have deep roots in their towns and have been writing for many years — but probably not as long as Mary Peyton Meyer, who celebrated her 100th birthday Dec. 31. This is her 85th consecutive year covering Frogtown for the Leader-Union in Vandalia, Ill., about 65 miles east of St. Louis.

Mrs. Meyer began a recent column by reporting the appointment of an organist at St. Peter Church. She also noted a community fundraiser, a Valentine’s Day dinner and the details of a 7-year-old’s birthday party.

“Miss Lydia Rose Taylor of Kinmundy was honored on her January 15 birthday with a luncheon at the home of Richard and Ruth Williams of Farina,” Mrs. Meyer wrote, in an intimacy familiar to regular readers. “Due to illness, Don and Denise Webb kept little Eli Montgomery.”

Studies have shown that readers are still keen on local news such as obituaries, which some papers have moved to more prominent sections, said Brad Dennison, editorial vice president for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., a newspaper chain based in Birmingham, Ala.

“We sort of lost touch that people really wanted that, and for local community newspapers, that’s absolutely our niche,” he said.


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