Communities and democracy suffer when newspapers die

Margaret Sullivan, “Communities and democracy suffer when newspapers die,” Seattle Times, 5 Dec. 2021, Print, D4.
digital version: Margaret Sullivan, “What happens to society — and democracy — when community journalism dries up?Seattle Times, 3 Dec. 2021, https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/what-happens-to-society-and-democracy-when-community-journalism-dries-up

In her column, Margaret Sullivan relates how local journalism is in serious decline—and that that’s bad for democracy. Newspapers serve as watchdogs over corruption, they inform citizens of civic and local happenings, and they serve as sources of vetted, credible information.

Print newspapers (and their associated reporters and staff) had already been adversely affected by the digital revolution (“Between 2005 and the start of the pandemic, about 2,100 newspapers closed their doors), and they were trying to adapt to that new reality when the pandemic struck. As she says, “Since the pandemic, at least 80 more papers have gone out of business, as have an undetermined number of other local publications . . .”

Sullivan characterizes areas of the country that no longer have local news as “news deserts,” and she refers to another phenomenon called “ghost newspapers” in which a paper still exists in name but, because it has lost many reporters and staff, it no longer thoroughly covers local events. In 2020, Sullivan wrote a book called Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy.

Various organizations and members of Congress (our own Senator Maria Cantwell and Representative Dan Newhouse, for example) are working to support journalism, but, as Sullivan’s article makes clear, Americans themselves must recognize how a free, independent, and strong press is essential to a healthy democracy—and they must support it. As she notes: “Studies show that people who live in areas with poor local news coverage are less likely to vote, and when they do, they are more likely to do so strictly along party lines.”

Without solid journalism, we’re more likely to not think independently and to not vote informed but instead to spew the party line.

For current information about what’s being done to salvage the free press in America, please go to the recently established “Save the Free Press” website at https://company.seattletimes.com/save-the-free-press/. Per the newspaper article by Brier Dudley, “Free Press web site debuts,” Seattle Times, 12 Nov. 2021, https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/free-press-web-site-debuts/ the “Save the Free Press” website will serve as a “resource for educators and those wishing to learn more about the importance of the local press, the challenges it faces and what’s being done about it.” At that website is also a link by which you can sign up for the free “Voices for a Free Press” newsletter.

[Note: I subscribe to a local paper, a regional paper, and a national/international paper. I subscribe to glean the different perspectives they provide and to do my bit to support the free press and my nation’s democracy.]

What could help? Lots of people could take upon themselves the responsibility to subscribe—print, digital, or both—to their local paper, and they should consider subscribing to a credible national/international news publication. Like having a town government, fire department, police department, school system, and civic organizations, having a free press and a public that reads the news is essential to civil society and to democracy.

Do your bit, contact your local newspaper and subscribe.

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