Constance Alexander: National Newspaper Week celebrates journalism and its vital role in democracy


Besides the one about blizzards with snowdrifts so high he had to climb a second story window to get to school, my father’s other story about growing up in Canada was that he peddled newspapers every day. mornings in a busy corner of St. John, New Brunswick, since the age of six.

He swore he got up at five every day to pick up his package of The Telegraph-Journal and lug it around to a place in the city center where businessmen and traders might be tempted to save a few pennies for. news of the day. Still “fresh from the press,” the papers stained his hands with black ink which needed to be cleaned before the nuns of St. Malachi saw him.

The Newspaper Boy (1869) by Edward Mitchell Brunswick (Image used under a Creative Commons license)

Dad has been in the papers most of his working life, always on the business side. He met my mom when they were working for the same newspaper in White Plains, NY. After their marriage during the Great Depression in 1933, he experienced professional ups and downs, but still managed to find a job in the industry he loved.

During World War II, a newspaper lured him to New Jersey, much to my mother’s dismay. It was a lucrative move, and the Alexander family grew from three to five children in the Garden State. When the Gannett Channel bought the Perth Amboy Evening News, my father retired, but never lost his journalistic habits. During the week, we were a family of two newspapers, but we hit the jackpot on Sunday with a trio of journalists: The New York Times, The Daily News, and The Journal-American.

When my dad first got the news bug, there were over twenty-two hundred dailies in this country, twenty-nine of which were in New York City alone. In the 1920s radio entered the arena, then in the late 1940s and 1950s television entered the scene. Newspapers adapted and adjusted their coverage to increase circulation, but nothing new surfaced until 1982, when Gannett created USA Today. Since then, mergers and acquisitions in the industry have flourished while the number of actual information providers has declined.

In the 80s, 90s and the start of the new millennium, digital technology and social media started to work their muscles. The 24 hour news cycle has set in. Public demands changed as online news sources proliferated and “entertainment” became a factor in attracting audiences. The Courier-Journal, formerly the state newspaper, closed its regional offices and recalled to focus on Louisville / Southern Indiana. News agencies of all sizes have struggled to stay afloat while searching for viable business models.

Today, in small towns like Murray, the newspapers are David without throwing stones at the Goliaths who buy local newspapers and consolidate coverage. In our own region, a private media group controls the NBC subsidiary, as well as dailies and weeklies in Paducah, Hopkinsville, Madisonville, Owensboro, Mayfield, Leitchfield, Russellville, Benton, Cadiz, Eddyville, Dawson Springs, Princeton and Providence .

Today, the trend continues. According to the Pew Research Center, the estimated circulation for U.S. dailies (print and digital combined) was 24.3 million for weekdays and 25.8 million for Sunday. Each figure was down 6% from the previous year. Digital circulation is on the rise, but advertising and broadcast revenues in the industry are down and employment in newsrooms across the country is declining.

What is the impact on local coverage?

It’s not a pretty picture.

According to a recent study by the Journal of Financial Economics, when newspapers close, the efficiency of local government deteriorates. The wages of workers in cities and counties are increasing relative to employees in the local private sector, resulting in a 1.3% increase in the ratio of government wages to other employees in the county.

The median county looked at a wage increase totaling $ 1.4 million in total and hired an average of four more government workers per 1,000 residents.

The burden on taxpayers has increased accordingly. Each taxpayer paid an average of $ 85 more per year. That may not sound like a lot, but it was actually 0.25% of the median salary – $ 33,700 – in the counties studied.

Another grim result of reduced local coverage is that civic engagement weakens, allowing politicians to hire more friends, pay them more, and raise taxes. The study also found that the interest rate cities and counties pay on their debt rose as local newspapers died. When there is no local control of public finances, debt costs more because the public has less information about the level of risk assumed by governments as they take on more liabilities.

Unless there is a natural disaster, mass murder, or sex scandal, the national media ignores local news. Investigative reporting at the local level is difficult with a small staff, and an increased desperation to attract and retain advertisers can end up skewing editorial content.

This week marks National Newspaper Week. If you think your journal is not doing its job, let it know. Write letters, speak. Strong local journalism strengthens social cohesion, encourages political participation, and improves the efficiency and decision-making of local and state governments. Local news organizations that survive the change will be led by creative and disciplined professionals invested in the long term to meet the information needs of their communities.

If you are happy with your article, thank the editor, editor, reporters and columnists. Write a letter to the editor about a local issue that interests you. Purchase a membership to show your community pride. Invite the editor or publisher to speak to your brown bag lunch service club.

The “Community Forum” is the theme of this year’s National Newspaper Week, emphasizing the importance of local journalism and its vital role in democracy. How’s your journal? What are you doing to improve it?

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