Chesterton Tribune



Stop the presses: Duneland without a newspaper

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Early in November I asked my editor whether--given the sheer godawfulness of 2020--he’d still be interested in the Chesterton Tribune’s traditional ”Year in Review” wrap-up, always run on the last publication day in December: a brief summary of the major stories in Duneland over the past year, and my (exhaustive or tedious, depending on your taste) catalogue of the headlines by month.

My personal feeling: there is really only was one story in 2020, and any account of the uncountable ways in which it infected, disrupted, distorted, and blasted everything else in our lives this year would be superfluous. My editor agreed.

A case in point: the loss of the Chesterton Tribune. If the Tribune was a dinosaur--and it was, a family-owned, locally-operated newspaper, like something out of Mayberry or Lake Wobegon--then the coronavirus was the asteroid that felled it. And the Trib isn’t special. Thousands of businesses across the country have been made extinct and hundreds of thousands of folks made hungry as the dust cloud continues to settle.

I would venture to say this, though. The Trib is different from many of the other victims in one particular way: it was an essential business. Technically it was an essential business, exempt from the governor’s March 23 stay-at-home order. But culturally it was an essential business too, I think, if by culture one means the ties that bind us, the values that move us, in the community we call Duneland.

As hard as I’ve worked on hard news over the last 23 years, I suspect that many readers, perhaps even most, have cherished the paper more for the community news: the good works of the Chesterton Lions, Chesterton-Porter Rotary, Chesterton-Duneland Kiwanis, Duneland Exchange, Duneland Resale, and Westchester Neighbors; the annual events like Rebuilding Together Duneland, the Duneland Relay for Life, and Dancing Like the Stars; the fish fries, poker runs, silent auctions, benefit concerts, awareness campaigns, and charity drawings.

Always the Trib has done its part to get the word out, has helped these organizations recruit manpower and raise money, has devoted skads of column inches to the everyday heroes and humanitarians. Make no mistake: Duneland  would not have been--nor will it be--any less generous or unstinting without the Trib. Dunelanders are a giving people, they unfailingly rise to the occasion, they’ll turn out their pockets or tear off their shirt at the drop of a hat. The Trib has only ever been a clearinghouse matching needs, opportunities, and doers: one-stop shopping for those seeking to make a difference. Yet this modest service was also an invaluable one. The Trib was the mirror in which we saw our passions and preoccupations reflected. It was the touchstone by which we defined ourselves first as Dunelanders, then as neighbors, then as friends indeed and in deed.

Scholastically, if I may use that term, the  Trib was also an essential business. For half a century it’s served as the unofficial PR arm of the Duneland School Corporation. Lunch menus. Class projects. Pancake breakfasts. Car washes. The winners of spelling and geography bees, of academic bowls, of ISSMA competitions. Art, music, theater. Speech and Debate. WDSO. Building trades. And--for many readers the only reason for subscribing in the first place--the perennial achievements of Duneland’s outstanding student-athletes. The Trib covered the Duneland School Board as well, ran the  ISTEP scores, and blow-by-blowed the two campaigns for a temporary supplemental property-tax hike.

In the Trib’s pages we watched our children and their friends grow smart, grow strong, grow up. From their armchairs sharp-eyed readers followed this or that stand-out’s  career from middle school through high school. Parents meeting by chance at the Strack knew when to congratulate, and when to commiserate. If the “Duneland Difference” means anything at all, it’s this: that the Trib created the conditions and the climate for the community truly to invest itself in the education and the excellence of its youth.

By any standard, of course, the Trib was an essential business civically. Over the course of 23 years, I attended and covered--by a conservative estimate--some 3,000 Chesterton municipal meetings (and maybe a 100 more in Porter and Burns Harbor): Town Council, Redevelopment Commission, Advisory Plan Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals, Utility Service Board, Stormwater Management Board, Park Board, and Police Commission. These meetings are not dramatic. They’re not entertaining. Sometimes they’re not even interesting. But these are the forums where the work of governance is done, policies made, ordinances enacted, budgets approved, petitions considered, and permitting granted. How your property taxes are spent, where that new subdivision will drain, what your neighbor may build in his backyard, whether a mixed-use planned unit development will be built in that nice quiet cornfield across the street from your home: these are the  consequences of the decisions made at town hall, and for nearly a quarter of a century I’ve faithfully reported those decisions, because not to know them is to wake one fine morning to the grumbling of a bulldozer outside your bedroom window.

I remember a public hearing at a BZA meeting some years ago, where a petitioner wanted a variance to allow him to build a house on an oddly shaped lot which the Park Department owned and was interested in selling to him. Originally the lot had been set aside by the subdivision’s developer and slated for the site of a pocket park, but for whatever reason the Park Department wanted to unload  it, pocket park unbuilt. The neighbors were outraged, and wanted to know specifically why they hadn’t been informed of the Park Board’s decision to sell it, why someone hadn’t knocked on their doors to advise them of the impending transaction. After the meeting I buttonholed one of the neighbors--the loudest one--and suggested helpfully that if he subscribed to the Chesterton Tribune he could have read all about it. He told me he took only one paper, the Times, then turned on his heel. Alas, the Times hasn’t sent a reporter to Chesterton in years.

Beginning next week, your source of municipal news--your only source of municipal news--will be no more. I hesitate to call the Trib a watchdog, for that would imply that the Tri Towns’ elected and appointed officials need watching. In my experience, they’re genuinely decent, dedicated people doing a vital and absolutely thankless job, earnest, honest, and deliberate, with their communities’ best interests firmly in mind. Yet it’s certainly possible for people to disagree in good faith about what those best interests are, whether the business of the town should be business, whether a bedroom community is preferable to an economic engine, whether annexation grows a community or strains its resources. It’s possible, in other words, to disagree heatedly about the apparently obvious: what exactly “quality of life” is, and how exactly it’s improved.

My heartfelt plea to our readers, on the very verge of becoming our former readers, is this, then: please, for the sake of that quality of life, do the essential business of newsgathering yourselves. Attend these meetings. Familiarize yourself with the issues. Ask questions. Take notes. Club together with your neighbors and divvy up the council, commissions, and boards. Make a habit of checking agendas on your town’s municipal website well in advance of meeting dates.

Elsewhere in this issue, my editor has compiled a list of the regular meeting dates for each of the Tri-Towns, with contact information for their council members and clerk-treasurer; plus the same for the Duneland School Board. Clip it, save it, frame it, use it.

I’ve come to think of other of the  Trib’s  regular features as essential too. Voices of the People. Echoes of the Past. The obituaries. Together we bickered and reminisced, celebrated and grieved, as extended families do. We learned each others’ names and the names of those who came before us, whose downed tools we took up. We marked the very seasons of our lives. These things I shall miss terribly.

God bless and godspeed in 2021.


Posted 12/30/2020




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