Francy That: Thank goodness we have a local newspaper
November 26, 2021
We know as citizens of Carlton County that we are very fortunate. We live in one of the most bucolic domains of nature populated with magnificent forests, crystal clear streams, and multiple lakes creating a “little slice of heaven.” Folks are friendly and community-minded whether celebrating local festivals all year-round or fundraising for charities. The list of pluses could fill the whole paper, but the major reason we can celebrate our good fortune is that we are one of a diminishing list of communities that still has a local newspaper.
The demise of local news sources has been discussed every so often on radio and TV programs with commentators adding wistful remarks regarding the hundreds of newly unemployed journalists and newspaper publishers stopping the presses permanently. One person who has delved into the repercussions of news deserts created by the loss of local news coverage is Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for The Washington Post. Her recent book “Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy” explores the impacts on local governments and communities when journalists are no longer the watchdogs for society, leaving minimal oversight of public officials and departments, opening the door to corruption and questionable governance. Not only that, communities lose the glue that holds them together.
Even though we are bombarded with news 24/7 on various media outlets, Sullivan emphasizes the importance of local journalism. She says, “When local news fails, the foundations of democracy weaken. The public, which depends on accurate, factual information in order to make good decisions, suffers. The consequences may not always be obvious, but they are insidious.” Local news coverage makes us better citizens. In addition, Sullivan cites a 2018 report by the Hutchins Center that tracked spending by local governments after the local newspapers closed. The findings show that borrowing costs increased 5-11 basis points, wages went higher and deficits increased.
Even more than government issues, Sullivan notes that the local newspaper offers a venue for local citizens to share their stories, raise local issues, celebrate the uniqueness of their community and bring people together. A local paper covers local news as no other source can.
Most of us do not have the time or energy to attend every public meeting in the county, whether school board or local government, but the paper provides us with information to read at our leisure. Local sports teams receive ample coverage and support; community events, feature stories and so much more are at our fingertips if we choose to support our local paper. For those who say they can get all the information they need online, try living with the world's slowest internet.
Sullivan speaks to those who argue that traditional newspapers are obsolete. She says, “I would point out that it's not just the watchdog journalism that matters. It's the way a local columnist can express a community's frustration or triumph … The newspaper ties a region together, helps it make sense of itself, fosters a sense of community, serves as a village square whose boundaries transcends Facebook's filter bubble.”
From the Fires of 1918 to the flu pandemic that spread around the world, local history was recorded on the pages of area newspapers. We can find volumes of local stories recorded and saved for posterity in thousands of communities around the country.
Who will keep our local stories when the newspapers are gone? How do we keep a sense of place and identity without a common thread to stitch us together? For now, we are fortunate to not face those questions. Let us all work together to support our local paper while we still have the chance to do so.
Writer Francy Chammings is a retired English teacher and clinical psychologist who loves living in Carlton County.