Editorial: Save and support local newspapers

Column By Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

“For the times they are a-changin’” sang Bob Dylan. And the digital age has changed the way information is eaten, swallowed, and digested. We can’t stop progress, but we must maintain the saliency of our local newspapers. Why? Local newspapers serve significant roles in local societies.

“When local newspapers shut their doors, communities lose out. People and their stories can’t find coverage. Politicos take liberties when it’s nobody’s job to hold them accountable. What the public doesn’t know winds up hurting them. The city feels poorer, politically and culturally,” penned Kriston Capps in a 2018 article at www.citylab.com.

I recently attended the annual conference for members of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, a 501(c)6 nonprofit organization. The NSNC promotes professionalism and camaraderie among columnists and other writers of the serial essay, including bloggers. And advocates for columnists and free-press issues. www.columnists.com.

The alarm is sounding and signaling action to save and support hometown newspapers. 

The School of Media and Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has collected, researched and analyzed data from 2004 to 2016 on more than 9,500 local newspapers. The comprehensive study of newspaper coverage in the United States found that 516 rural newspapers closed or merged from 2004 to 2018. In metropolitan areas, 1,294 newspapers were shuttered. A national total of 1,810 papers that ceased publication. Read the 88-page report “The Rise of a New Media Baron and the Emerging Threat of News Deserts” at www.usnewsdeserts.com.

A “news desert” refers to a community that is no longer covered by daily newspapers or has limited access to local news. 

“News deserts present problems for small communities that rely on local newspapers for a majority of their news. Plus, owners of small, local newspapers tend to balance business interests with civic responsibility, and therefore play a role in the vitality of the community that they serve.” www.newsmediaalliance.org.

The referenced study asks and answers, “What can be done to save the journalism that has been provided by community newspapers for more than 200 years? There are no simple answers and no guarantees. It will take a concerted and committed effort by many to avert a growing number of news deserts.” www.usnewsdeserts.com.

Don’t close the casket and bury local newspapers yet! Ye naysayers of doom and gloom — readers want, need, and love their local newspapers. 

I urge readers of every local newspaper to write a letter of support to the newspaper staff. Dust off your duff and vocalize your opinion by writing a Letter to the Editor. Take some time out of your hurry-scurry day and communicate with your newspaper people. They need to know you care. 

What else can you do? Pay for a subscription to your local newspaper. The staff and their families need to eat at least once a day. 

Use newspaper content as a teaching tool in elementary, middle, and high school. Communities need strong newspaper-in-education programs.

Local businesses need to continue spending their advertising dollars with hometown newspapers, whether in print or digital. 

“Without a local paper, there is a strong risk of news deserts emerging across vast regions in the country with communities that can least afford it — with political, economic and social consequences for society as a whole.” www.usnewsdeserts.com.

Who owns your hometown newspaper? For more information visit www.newspaperownership.com. “In addition to newspaper owners, individuals and institutions will need to make a committed and concerted effort to save community journalism.”

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in Ohio.

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