Monday, October 08, 2018

Newspaper Week is a critical opportunity to remind readers and non-readers of papers' value to community, democracy

By Al Cross
Director and Professor, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky

This is National Newspaper Week, and I'm afraid too many newspapers are just going through the motions. There's never been a more important time to remind Americans of the importance of newspapers to their democracy, their communities and their future, so we hope our newspaper friends will take the opportunity. Some already have, highlighting this year's theme, “Journalism matters. NOW more than ever.”

The Tracy Press in California alerted readers to the 78th annual observance and said, "As the theme indicates, this is a critical time for the American institution of journalism because the national political rhetoric now includes allegations that newspapers are little more than purveyors of false information bent on enacting a radical hidden agenda. This is not the first time these tactics have been used to identify the press as an enemy in an effort to devalue information that is published about someone or some group. That tactic at the national level hurts all of us, because it even makes readers here in Tracy and Mountain House question the sources of our information and the integrity of our reporting."

Publisher Rod Baker of the Ledger Independent in Maysville, Ky., did what newspapers ought to do more often: remind readers of their purpose, polices and practices. "Our mission is to deliver local news and information that’s important to you and our community in an unbiased and truthful manner," Baker wrote. "Our desire is to inform, inspire and educate our readers each and every day through our print and online outlets. We are the only local news outlet that extensively covers our local government entities both city and county, local community events, publishes public notices to keep you informed, offers comprehensive listings of local deaths in both print and online, follows and provides information on local sporting events, and the list can go on and on."

In the Cedar County Republican in Missouri, freelancer Jim Hamilton noted a recent salute to retiring publisher Dave Berry that drew U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, Gov. Mike Parson "and a host of other notables, . . . Many of the accolades heaped on Dave were associated with his role as a community leader, as well they should have; but I hope folks were paying attention when Sen. Blunt, former Sterling Media owner Jim Sterling and others noted his virtues as a newspaperman. . . . Dave was an old-school journalist — a reporter relentless in digging out the truth, an editor unafraid to hold elected officials’ feet to the fire, a newsman willing to go nose-to-nose with public figures seeking to suppress embarrassing arrests or court actions."

Newspaper Week editorials need to be aimed not so much at readers, but at non-readers, through social media -- reminding these potential readers that journalism practices a discipline of verification, something that is entirely absent on social media. We shouldn't take for granted that people can tell real journalism when they see it; journalists have not been that good at defending our brand, and that's why the theme of this year's Newspaper Week is a good one. It's worth repeating.

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