When I speak to civic groups, the question about the future of the newspaper always comes up. Sometimes I just jump right in and announce first thing that newspapers are not dying, especially this one.

Sure, times are tough in the newspaper business but there has never been a time that journalism has been as vibrant — or more important — than it is now.

The list of stumbling blocks to the survival of newspapers is long and not a new phenomenon. The obstacles stretch back beyond the introduction of the Internet, but the web has been a formidable protagonist.

The fight began in earnest when department stores and automobile dealerships and any number of other businesses reduced the money they spent in newspapers and invested in their own websites and circulars and other forms of advertising.

But guess what? We’re still here. We’ve been here since 1854, in fact, and have no plans on doing anything other than helping local business grow through advertising and reporting on the news you need and want to know.

I spent time Friday looking at some of the stories we’ve reported this year and, despite a reduced staff, we have made a significant impact. The list includes Alex MacLean’s reporting on homelessness, development, the trend in juvenile imprisonment; Guy McCarthy on the drought, cannabis and his enduring Out There column and Giuseppe Ricapito on schools, crime and his heartwarming stories of people overcoming significant troubles.

We’ve righted our sports section with the addition of new sports editor Melissa Blanton. Maggie Beck continues to produce photos that capture emotion and sense of place. Behind the scenes, we have Candice Kendall designing the A section and sometimes others. and Margie Thompson wrestling features — meaning food, business, health, community and Sierra Living — to the ground single handedly each week.

Mike Morris continues to produce the well-received Weekender.

Looking ahead, I’m working on a stronger opinion page, to include more local editorials and columns from residents.

And on Fridays in the news pages, we’ll begin a new column, Ask the Miner, in which we’ll answer questions you have about goings on in the community. This is a not an opinion piece. It’s factual information that everyone can use, such as what’s the story behind the Marengo building or why has the land been cleared on the left on Highway 49 as you’re going into Columbia?

Thanks to Paula Johansen for the Ask the Miner name.

I’ve asked many times for your input and my most recent of just a few weeks ago brought forth some interesting responses, like the Ask the Miner name. One reader sent me 88 suggestions that filled close to five typewritten pages. I’ve read every one and am working down the list. That’s a reader who cares about her hometown newspaper, and I appreciate it.

Among her suggestions were more human interest stories, those tomes that make your heart ping just a bit. They are among my favorites to read and to write.

Two other readers requested the same, and one asked that we bring back the Sierra Views feature, which ran on Thursdays and spotlighted interesting people in the community. I’m responsible for that going away because it ended up being a have to instead of a must do. We didn’t have the staff to spend the time needed to make it a truly interesting look at someone’s life. I felt we were shortchanging the person profiled and the reader.

But that doesn’t preclude us from doing it on occasion.

I’m always open to suggestions and recommendations about specific situations and people you want to know more about.

Again, please call, write, email what’s on your mind.

We wish you happy times for the year ahead and, with your help, The Union Democrat will continue to be a true reflection of our community.

Lyn Riddle is editor of The Union Democrat. Contact her at 209-588-3541, lriddle@uniondemocrat.com or 84 S. Washington St. Sonora 95370.