As I write this, surgeons are taking a friend's heart out of his body, placing it in a machine on an adjoining table, and replacing and repairing parts of this good man's big heart.

I think and write much about technology - moving digits from computer to computer to computer. My staff and I worry about bandwidth, hardware and software, bytes transferred, "spiders crawling" our servers, search engine placement, php, server-side includes, html, java, sql, etc.

But as I think of my friend lying on an operating table (and his heart lying next to him on a separate table) in a hospital in Missoula, Montana, I'm reminded that the newspaper business isn't about machines.

It's about people.

People like my friend Jim Fall.

And it's people like Jim who are the greatest strengths of the newspaper business, whether it be print or online.

Let me tell you a bit about Jim.

He's the executive director of the Montana Newspaper Association. He'll be 67 in December, but he says he never wants to retire because he loves his job, his newspaper friends and the newspaper business too much to ever say goodbye.

Jim and his marvelous wife, Jan, moved to Montana about 10 years ago after a career working for newspapers in Missouri and Arkansas. He's a jack of all trades - he'd cover city council, pen a column, help a widow write an obituary, take a football photo, create an ad campaign, lay out pages, soup film, chair a chamber committee, coach a Little League team, sweep the floor. He never learned to hit a golf ball well, but he sure is good company.

After taking the MNA job, Jim and Jan traveled the vast reaches of the nation's fourth largest state to visit each of the weekly and daily newspapers in the sparsely populated Big Sky state, making friends wherever they went. I bet he knows more than one in 10 of the state's some 900,000 residents by name.

Jim is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and a lifelong Fighting Tiger.

He loves journalism, newspapers and newspaper people.

Jim is on a very short list of people I talk to when I'm down or need guidance and counsel. TownNews.com started (as INN) as a virtual creature of the Montana Newspaper Association. I'm sure TownNews.com wouldn't be where it is today without the help and support that Jim and others in the MNA provided at critical times.

I worry a lot that technology and companies like Google, Yahoo! EBay, Amazon and craigslist will do great damage to community newspapers. One of my personal goals is to help newspapers respond to changing times so they have a better chance to survive and thrive. Jim has always understood that mission and has always been there to help.

Jim Fall is a great optimist. He helped me learn that we can solve technology issues, and he's right.

And from Jim I learned the principle that newspapers can thrive because we can win on the battlefront that Google can't match: People. Community newspapers have great people working and living in their cities and towns. Who else has that?

Folks like Jim Fall are the hearts of communities and community newspapers.

Yes, sometimes we need to repair those hearts, and even add new parts.

We have the technology to do that, and when those repairs are completed, those hearts can beat long and serve well.

                               -30-

Post script: On Friday morning, Sept. 3, I received this email from Jim's son, Tim, and daughter-in-law, Jennifer:

Dear family and friends,

This is just to let you know that Jim's surgery has been successfully completed, and he is in the ICU, still under anesthesia, while they watch him carefully for the next few hours. The two bypass operations were performed first, followed by the aortic valve replacement. After that part of the procedure, the surgeons saw that the mytral valve was malfunctioning, so they had to replace that valve as well. This additional work caused the surgery to go on for nine hours instead of the anticipated three.

The doctor says Jim is in stable condition. We will let you know as we get more information. He is at St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Montana.

With love and thanks for your prayers and support,

Jennifer and the Fall family

(Marc Wilson is general manager of TownNews.com. He's reachable at marcus@townnews.com.)