Newspapers perform a valuable community service

Published 8:49 am Monday, October 8, 2018

National Newspaper Week begins today, and will be celebrated all this week. If you are reading a newspaper today, it is because a group of dedicated employees have worked hard to make it happen.
These are difficult times for newspapers, and for those of us who strive every day to bring you the news as well as stories about your children, your community, and what is happening here, it hurts when we are verbally assaulted and referred to as “fake news.”
Freedom of the Press is a right granted by the Constitution of the United States of America, and is the foundation of all our liberties. It is as important as the second amendment right of bearing arms.
According to the U.S. Labor Department, jobs in the news industry overall have plummeted since 2001, from 411,800 to 173,709. Newspapers have suffered brutal declines. According to a 2018 industry survey, news department staffing nationwide is about 25,000, a shocking drop from around 65,000 in the 1990s.
For decades, the industry has suffered declines in circulation and advertising. This year, another dire threat emerged: skyrocketing prices for newsprint, the paper used in printing newspapers.
Meanwhile, the president has taken to blasting the news media for publishing critical stories.
This not exactly new. In 1807, President Thomas Jefferson fumed in a letter: “The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.”
President Obama made a point of castigating Fox News, which was critical of his administration, and his spying on journalists was very inappropriate.
None of this is to say the news media have been perfect. Given the need for ratings and clicks, some in the media often have seemed more interested in fueling public hysteria and advancing story lines than in calmly and accurately presenting both sides.
For almost 50 years, I have worked at the Elizabethton STAR. I’ve done it all — from writing obituaries and weddings, to covering the police beat, county commission and city council, and elections to interviewing local, state, and national candidates.
I was first a reporter, then an editor, and now, I’m a general flunkie. I do whatever needs to be done. I’ve lived for datelines, bylines, and deadlines, and I have the worry lines to prove it.
As a newspaper reporter and editor, I believe in the value of professional journalists observing and sharing the human experience through feature stories, holding public officials and institutions accountable through investigative news reports, and supporting and building strong, well-informed communities.
Through the years, I have heard endless complaints.
Readers occasionally corner me in the grocery aisles and gripe that there’s nobody covering the school board. Nobody paying attention to city hall. Nobody checking on the cost of health care. Nobody covering federal courts, higher education, the environment, social justice issues.
There are too many stories about local high school teams … or not enough. Too many editorials favoring Republicans … or Democrats. Too many crime stories and nobody writing about the injustice of it all.
I get it.
And, then just at the right time, I receive a nice thank you card, a complimentary phone call, or meet someone who says, “I loved your story about….”
The good news is that this reflects the bond the community still has with the newspaper despite the changing landscape for journalism. Even merely occasional readers believe their local newspaper should be everywhere when they need it and everything to everybody. They want to count on it, criticize it, and clip the stories about their kids’ triumphs at the science fair or their home run in Little League play and save them forever.
I wish we could hire more reporters and have a staff photographer. I wish we could cover every event in our community. I wish I had the answer to saving newspapers.
You have a right to disagree with us, even throw darts at us. But while your local newspaper is still here, take a moment to appreciate the insights, the opinions, the willingness to hold feet to fire, the stories about your community, and the team that works 24/7 to do it all.
Because as somebody who’s heard all manner of readers’ opinions for more years than I care to count, I know one thing is certain.
You’d miss us if we weren’t there.
Remember, the First Amendment remains essential to liberty. Citizens who wish to protect themselves must preserve a free press.
— By Rozella Hardin, Editorial Director

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox