Friday, May 25, 2018

A struggling press is nothing to celebrate

Over the past two weeks the Buffalo News shrunk dramatically. The Monday to Saturday editions dropped from 4 sections to 3 while the Sunday paper saw the Niagara Sunday section eliminated entirely. Within days of that change we learned that numerous reporters there were offered or took buy outs – 9 writers in all were shown the door.

If, as this was happening, you looked through Twitter or Facebook you would have found hordes of people reveling in this. It was the usual schlock – the News is too liberal; it’s only fit to line bird cages; no one reads newspapers anymore.  

It was disheartening, and aggravating, to see such behavior. If you’re celebrating the end of the press, you’re celebrating the end of America.

Our country cannot survive without newspapers, whether in the print version or in their modern online style.

The strength and character of our constitutional republic is contingent upon an informed citizenry, which is why the forefathers found it necessary to recognize the value of the press in the First Amendment. News agencies -- large and small, national and local -- keep all levels of government in check by investigating improprieties, shining light on policy both active and proposed, and sharing the socioeconomic issues that force government and civic action. A good newspaper will educate, and hopefully inspire, the electors and the elected alike.

Take that away and what are you left with? Mostly incredibly-questionable social media accounts and websites, many of which are created by political parties and biased sources that have their own special interests and not the interests of the masses at heart.

Look at the “news” that drove both sides in the past election; it didn’t matter if it was pro-Trump Russian websites or domestically-made Democratic initiatives masquerading as news entities…that was what dictated much of what was shared online and around the water cooler. A discerning eye knew that most of those sources couldn’t be trusted but many Americans ate it up, especially if it played to their biases. If newspapers disappear, will such free-wheeling disinformation become the norm?

Newspapers, on the other hand, utilize reporters and editors who were trained in (and accountable to) integrity and how to get to the bottom of a story, and those newsrooms have the resources, employees, time and public trust to expose and/or expound upon the issues.

It doesn’t end there. The micro is just as important as the macro with the press. Your neighborhood news outlets do things at the most local level that you cannot get from Facebook – they provide a single source that offers in-depth coverage of events and people in your community; promotion of the academic and athletic endeavors of your children; attendance at common council and school board meetings and public hearings that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to fit into your schedule; and populkar updates like police reports and obituaries.

In the absence of a newspaper in your town, who has the time or ability to fill that void? The answer is simple: no one.

Don’t think that what is happening to the Buffalo News and other major metropolitan newspapers isn’t and can’t happen to those smaller papers. It’s like a plague that has taken over the country.

Case in point, the Lockport Union Sun and Journal and Niagara Gazette don’t print one day out of every week and just a few years ago their sister papers – the Tonawanda News and Medina Journal-Register – had to close due to the economics of the industry. People genuinely miss those newspapers – I hear from local residents all of the time. They feel like they are totally out of the loop without them.  

Or, how about my beloved Wellsville Daily Reporter? It was announced 2 weeks ago that the Reporter, the history of which dates back to 1880, was merging with Hornell’s Evening Tribune. That’s an absolute necessity in a changing news marketplace and a depressed Southern Tier economy.

To keep the news alive, publishers have to be creative and, unfortunately, they have to break from tradition and/or write pink slips. Smaller papers, consolidations, and not-so-daily newspapers are becoming standard practice.

The fight for the press shouldn’t begin and end in their offices. We all have a say in it.

Businesses need to buy advertisements.

Consumers need to purchase print or electronic subscriptions.

And, above all, we need to stop cheering the decline in newspapers’ sizes, profitability, and employment rolls.

It’s ignorant to do that, and an ignorant people we all will become without the press behind and before us.

No news is bad news.

From the 28 May 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

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