Some surprising content appeared on the funny pages a few weeks ago. It was in Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” cartoon strip, and it showed a young couple at the breakfast table. The young man is reading a newspaper and he says to his spouse, “Did you know that cities that lose their local paper suffer a big drop in civic engagement?” “Really?” she says. “That’s right,” he goes on, “Without a newspaper print or online, people lose a host of connections with their community.”
“I can’t imagine not having a source of local news,” the husband adds, followed by a fast repartee, “What time is the concert?” “There’s a concert?” “At the town hall.” “That’s this week?” “It was announced at the board meeting.” “What board meeting?” “The one about the scandal?” “There was a scandal?” “Yes, someone resigned.” “Not what I heard.” “Heard where?” “At the bake sale.” “What bake sale?” “You missed it?” “Whoa…where are we?” “Um, got me. Check the paper.”
With the unrelenting attacks on the free press by the current U.S. president and echoed by his sycophants in Congress and the public, America is running the risk of losing altogether the essential role of a free press in its democracy. Or, better, as one wise voice said last week, “The free press is not a vital component of democracy, it IS democracy!” and it’s not just a matter of keeping the public informed about where the bake sale is, it’s far more vital as a tool of socialization, a fabric of community, especially when it does a good job reporting the news and inviting a robust debate through letters to the editor and commentaries on the vital issues of the day. It also provides a way for local businesses to reach their customer base in the most affordable and targeted way.
But while the president and his followers howl about “fake news,” in line with what other authoritarian anti-democratic regimes do around the world, the other assault on institutions of the free press in America has come from the same undercurrent of a stagnant U.S. economy that is squeezing all but the wealthiest Americans, further evidence of the real state of affairs. Local newspapers are failing in record numbers, over 3,000 nationally in just the last decade, creating the conditions that the “Doonesbury” cartoon cautions about.
While many community newspapers even in this region have failed, like most others that remain, this newspaper is engaged in the ongoing difficult task of staying afloat and maintaining its role as a form of public trust. This is why you are seeing in recent issues an appeal to invite members of the community to join the News-Press as a member. Please read these ads inviting you to “Become a member of the News-Press and help us keep community journalism alive and well in the Little City!” and go online to FCNP.com/Members to join.