My phone alerted me to a four-year-old photo a few days ago, or rather it alerted me to a photo taken four years ago of a newspaper clipping from decades ago. The clipping was a photo of a much younger version of me proudly standing next to a giant pumpkin I had grown in our garden.

Sadly, that was the peak of my farming career, but proof it ever existed was enshrined in that photo, which was published in the local paper. A family friend clipped it out, probably intending to give it to my parents in short order.

Instead, it got lost for a few decades, likely resurfacing when the family friend was going through a box long ago stowed away in a closet. Once discovered, however, it was put in the mail and arrived at my mother’s house for us to share a good laugh about the time I grew the giant pumpkin.

It’s a noteworthy family memory and a great example of the power of local newspapers and their unique ability to thoroughly cover their communities. My giant pumpkin didn’t make the front page, which is reserved for more serious topics, but it was important enough to be preserved for decades.

At its best, a community newspaper is a running dialogue of the area it covers. It’s a family-friendly version of the town talk in watering holes, coffee shops and beauty salons. The latest about all the area sports teams, board meetings, letters, announcements and more is collected and packaged based on what an editor believes the community needs to know. Over time, the articles also become artifacts of what life was like last week, year or decade.

Today anyone with a phone can tap a couple of buttons and blast a message to the masses. But that doesn’t replace a seasoned reporter’s intuition or a veteran editor’s judgement on elevating stories that will resonate within the community. The internet has certainly given us all options in the who, what, why and how we get our news, but local papers are still the most durable fabric to hold a community together.

They’re not perfect by any means, but your local newspaper is just as important to a town’s sense of itself as the school, hardware store or area landmark. In addition to keeping up on current events, readers get a sense of civic pride by knowing what’s going on in the community. The reach of a newspaper extends far beyond its circulation area.

Just the other day I received a call from a gentleman who had retired and decided to trade Kansas winters for the sunshine in Arizona. Must be nice. Even though he’s no longer a resident, he mentioned how he stayed connected with his former town from more than 1,000 miles away through the local newspaper.

Despite the distance, he’s still receiving updates on the births, deaths, weddings, high school events, city council meetings and more that local papers cover. Some, maybe even all, of that is available through social media, but good luck finding it in the same place day after day or week after week. A local newspaper will reliably show up on your porch, driveway or mailbox.

However, such service doesn’t come cheap. Readers are being asked to shoulder more and more of the cost through subscriptions as advertisers look elsewhere. While it might seem like a raw deal, the value of living in a community connected through coverage is a bargain.