By Mike Wilcox
I came across this column by Ambrosia Nelson, general manager at Leader Publications in Niles. I’d been thinking of writing a similar piece, but she expressed my opinion so well I simply decided to rerun what she already published. Here it is:
“We live in a generation that is more connected than ever. Access to information comes as easily as tapping on a smart phone. We can find all sorts of information online, so why should we pay to read it?
“This is a good question — one I’m asked almost daily. My response is simple: Free press is not free to produce.
“In small towns, barring earth-shattering breaking news, the main source for information ultimately comes from your community newspaper. If you trace back information you have learned about business developments, crimes committed, local government decisions, sports scores and community events, more often than not if your information is reliable, it came from the newspaper.
“You may have read the news online, republished from the newspaper. Perhaps you saw it on Facebook, linking you back to our newspapers. Or maybe you heard the information from a friend, or read about it in a Facebook group — more than likely, that friend or Facebook user gathered their information from the newspaper.
“For every story published in our newspapers and online, a journalist was paid to write or edit that story. Their computer and software was paid for. The heat, light and water bills were paid at their office. Paper and ink were purchased to print the newspaper, and a press crew was paid to operate the press. To produce this story, we have also paid a designer to lay out the newspaper and get the content online, support staff to work with customers, editors to proof the content — you get the idea.
“You may say, ‘I find information on social media pages, directly from the source,’ and it’s true — it is shockingly simple for anyone with a smart phone, tablet or computer to share information, and a lot of times the information is factual.
“But can you imagine a world where political information was shared only by elected officials? How would we know for certain that information is not being spun to fit their agenda?
“What if, in order to find out the stats for a basketball game, you had to bring a notebook and tally every rebound, shot attempt and foul?
“What if your chances of finding out what events are coming up or what businesses are opening were dependent on liking all the right Facebook pages, and sifting through the comments to find the information you wanted?
“Communities thrive when there is a system of checks and balances — an outsider collecting information and presenting it in a fair and balanced way. In communities where newspapers have been left with no option but to shutter their doors, readers have found an increase in corruption in local government, and an increase in depending on the rumor mill to gather information.
“When local governments are not reported on, citizens are left in the dark about where their hard-earned tax dollars are going, and the likelihood of higher taxes and wasteful government spending increases dramatically.
“Community journalism can only survive if the community understands the value of the information they are being provided.
“Businesses that have reaped the benefits of great coverage as their business has grown are encouraged to pay it forward. Advertising your business in the newspaper increases the newspaper’s ability to share good news about your business (and it helps attract customers, too!).”
Like Ambrosia, I am a great believer in community journalism. The staffs I lead work very hard to provide you with the latest community and business news on a weekly basis. It’s a tough job and not very rewarding when someone hollers and screams at you because they didn’t get their free newspaper or we spelled their name wrong.
Rather than scold us for making a mistake, why not pat your local journalist on the back next time you see him or her? Remember, they are doing their part to keep community journalism alive.