No. 1225



While I don’t know who said it first, there is an often repeated truism that goes, “We don’t miss the water till the well runs dry.” And I might add, you don’t miss your community newspaper until you don’t have one.
Back in the prime of my weekly column in the late 1990s, I had more than 300 newspapers running it, and more than 375 in 35 states that ran it at one time or another. But due to the Internet and other electronic media, plus more than 32 million Americans who can’t read at all, our nation’s newspapers have fallen on hard times. Where they were hit first and hardest was in ad revenue, as this has been a major source of income.
While the market factors of supply and demand will always prevail, the major television networks, plus the cable channels, are left to be the guardian of our democracy and our best hope for getting the truth. Here is a pertinent question for you. Do you think we are getting it? You may think so, but I truly have my doubts. One thing the newspapers have going for them that may not be common knowledge is something we call the Freedom of Information Act. Because of FOI laws, newspaper reporters cannot be denied access to public meetings or public records, and I can tell you that they shine a bright light when it comes to reporting the truth.
A recent article by Sonny Albarado, who is the projects editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, our only statewide newspaper, makes a strong case for what we lose when a newspaper is forced to close its doors. The first thing Albarado does is quote the motto of the Washington Post which is “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” and my friend that is the truth. It does die when our citizens are not told the truth. Sadly, in recent years our television networks have left the days of Walter Cronkite, who just reported the news and left it up to the viewers to decide how they felt about it.
Whatever you think about newspapers or the hardworking, underpaid journalists they employ, the decades-long decline of hometown newspapers is creating what researchers call “news deserts” – towns, counties and even larger areas that no longer have regular local coverage of events and issues that affect real people. More than 1,400 cities in the U.S. have lost their main source of local news over the past 15 years, the Associated Press found in analyzing data compiled by the University of North Carolina researchers.
A good case in point, here in my home state since 2015, GateHouse Media has closed 10 newspapers found in North Little Rock, Lonoke, Cabot, Carlisle, Sherwood, Maumelle, Jacksonville, Arkadelphia, Prescott, and Hope. On top of closures, the economics of the newspaper business has reduced many publications to shells of what they once were.
Here is something to consider that does affect you and me. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Notre Dame found that municipal borrowing costs increase after a newspaper ceases publication. It seems that the demise of a newspaper leaves readers in the dark and emboldens elected officials to sign off on higher wages, larger payrolls and ballooning budget deficits. It’s just human nature and it is one of the main reasons we need a local newspaper.
(Editor’s Note: JIM DAVIDSON is an author, public speaker, syndicated columnist and founder of the Bookcase for Every Child project. Since its inception in 1995, Jim’s column has been self-syndicated to over 375 newspapers in 35 states, making it one of the most successful in the history of American journalism.)