I live in a small town with a local newspaper that, like many, struggles to stay alive. Over the last several years, subscriptions have dwindled, which drives down revenue, which in turn reduces operating funds and therefore cuts the content of the daily paper, further jeopardizing subscription rates. For anyone who took freshman econ, it’s a multiplier effect, with a fractional coefficient. But no matter — even without the theory, you can see where things are heading.
Now, with coronavirus, things have gotten worse, as events are canceled (events are daily bread for a community paper), and businesses can no longer afford to advertise. The paper seems to be a kind of epicenter for the economic consequences of today’s pestilential siege. You can’t say to a thirsty person, “Never fear, we’ll bring you water in six months — or sometime.” Certain things have to be kept going through thick and thin.
I write an arts column for the Union-Bulletin (full disclosure: I don’t get paid; it’s purely a community service).
At a gathering before the virus hit I was approached by a couple I know. She asked if there were any good concerts coming up — I always include as full a list as possible of upcoming events — and, as it happened, there were probably 20 or 30 on the list I had published a few days before. I couldn’t begin to name them, or recite them by memory, so I said, “Look at my newspaper column.”
And then her husband said, “Do we look like we’re over 60? Of course we don’t take the paper.” Now, these people are hardly millennials and are probably over 50, but the whiff of age-ist self-congratulation in his statement, the assumption that it’s the hip thing not to read a newspaper, alarmed me. I know that a lot of younger people, as well as people who pretend they’re younger, believe that the best way to stay informed is through the internet.
It’s not. I’m not just being a conservative old fogey. I offer five reasons:
- Local news is arguably the most important news. What the Walla Walla City Council decides is quite possibly going to have at least as much impact on your life as what Congress decides.
- If you trust Pravda, get your news off Facebook. Social media sites are filled with trolls and bots and extremists. Some of it’s true, some is false, but there’s no way to know which is which. Don’t do your own structural engineering. Or your own news curation.
- A paper is better than even a curated online news source. Why? There’s no click-bait in a newspaper. Nobody’s wasting your time with pointless stories; you can still skip over the stuff you find unimportant. Nobody’s tracking your attention and selling it to nefarious dark busybodies. You read it in the privacy of your own home.
- Letters to the editor are our only town meetings. Friends who consider themselves liberal hate reading the rants by local right-wingers, and believe me there are plenty. But how else are you going to know they’re out there, and what they’re thinking?
- If you want community, you have to accept diversity; you have to attend to alternative points of view. This is so often said that it hardly bears repeating, except that I hear intelligent, educated people say they don’t subscribe because of all the hysterical letters. The most hysterical statement you can make, implicitly, is not to subscribe, helping Putin and his minions kill our independent news media.
My newspaper is flawed, I know it is; nobody, even the editors, would claim otherwise. But it’s a lot better than other human institutions. It needs to make money to stay alive, but it doesn’t sell opioids or vapes, it doesn’t publish pornography, it doesn’t pollute the waters and air. It doesn’t enslave workers or shift American jobs overseas. It respects and listens to its patrons.
Please reciprocate: Respect it, listen to it. Subscribe.