Newspapers — especially community newspapers — are alive and kicking, no matter what you may have read online. We chronicle the lives and times of our neighbors, and keep a close eye on government. And in addition to our print products, we maintain an up-to-date website to serve the public. There’s nothing fake about what we do.
This is National Newspaper Week, Oct. 6 through 12, when newspapers are encouraged to promote themselves. Frankly, we don’t do a really good job of self-promotion — not nearly as good as television, probably because we don’t try as hard. We’re generally too busy meeting the next deadline.
Yet we’re convinced we have great reason to be proud. We are the paper of record for this community, and we take that responsibility seriously. As a twice-weekly newspaper, we may not be as immediate as television, but the race is not always to the swift. Television can give you snapshots and sound bites, but we can give you the big picture — and you can always go back and check the details at your convenience.
And with The Recorder’s website and burgeoning presence on social media, we can give you a bit of the swift as well.
The theme for this 79th annual commemoration is “Think First: Know Your Five Freedoms.” The push here is to raise awareness about our five First Amendment freedoms, as outlined in the U.S. Constitution — freedom of the press, speech, religion, petition and assembly — and the ways the news media help promote and protect those freedoms. Those five freedoms seem so basic, and we sometimes may take them for granted, but there are surprisingly few channels that allow us to exercise all five freely.
In St. Mary’s, the strength of its open meetings law will be tested during the next session of the General Assembly, as the county commissioners have advanced legislative proposals that would allow more of the people’s business to be conducted in closed sessions. This is a big mistake, and we are opposed to it. One delegate even said this move would increase transparency. Hard to imagine how a window is easier to see through with its shade drawn.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Of course, we need both, and we need to know our roles. Part of ours is to speak truth to power, and to hold elected officials accountable for their words and actions.
That’s what we hope our readers grasp, twice a week in print and anytime online. Real stories, real journalism, real work, real deadlines, real honesty, real facts and real changes, often in the face of real threats to our business.
Indeed, the job of newspapers in America, in thousands of communities like ours, has never been more challenging — or more challenged. Rollie Atkinson of Sonoma West Publishers in California reminds us, “once upon a time, newspaper circulation grew faster than the country’s population … But since the 1980s, it has been on a steady and worsening decline. At the same time, newspapers remain the top choice for people seeking real news and reliable information.”
Atkinson cites a recent poll that found more than half of Americans still subscribe or pay for newspapers or access to their websites. Only 11% of the survey’s respondents said the internet was their primary news source. “Newspapers have survived the advent of radio and broadcast TV,” he says. “but the threat of 24/7 internet-delivered media, commercials and amusement is disrupting the very reality for which newspapers were first invented. More and more people can’t tell the difference between real news and fake news … But no amount of tweets will protect the public’s right to know or watchdog our government.”
So what’s the future for newspapers when people these days, especially younger ones, think real news should be free and magically appear on their smart phones? This is a business that has had to change with the times, and will continue to do so. So even if newspapers as we have come to know them evolve into something different in the coming decades, keeping the content trustworthy and reliable will remain the hallmark.
In many ways, local newspapers are the last refuge of unfiltered America. At The Recorder, we realize we are important to our community. With your continued cooperation, we make a difference. So celebrate that with us twice a week, every week.