This is National Newspaper Week, seven days set aside each year as both a tribute to print journalists and their products. But in this age of instant communication, it’s much more.
It’s appropriate that we are afforded an entire week named for what we do, since the print medium has a lengthy shelf life. Community newspapers remain in the home longer than their cousins that are published daily, yet we share the same desire to be relevant, accurate community connections.
Consider coverage of a town, village or school board meeting. Reporters devote hours each week observing, interpreting and writing about numerous items on the agenda, often waiting until the end of the night for the best story. They might follow up with a board member for clarification on the issue or a quote to personalize the story.
That’s not possible by watching video of the meeting. Such community service broadcasts don’t allow you to fast forward to the hottest topic.
There is no “on demand” button in town hall.
Citizens entrust journalists to perform this function. It requires training and experience to spot the most important story and good judgment not to blow it out of proportion. It takes skill. It takes time.
Newspaper readers may have to wait several days to read the story, but reporters use this time to get the facts and write in a way that points out why the topic is important to the community. If the story is significant enough, most community newspapers and almost all daily newspapers will post as soon as possible to their website. But hard news is not the only reason people remain devoted to print - especially the weekly variety.
Readers reach out to us to publicize their community events. We remain the most reliable means to perform this service.
A Facebook post will travel only as far as a thread of friends will carry it, and it will soon be submerged by information about the latest Halloween costumes for pets or a snapshot of a pretty sunset.
Newspapers sometimes have room for the latter, but local events will be found grouped together, packaged for the benefit of the dedicated reader.
The mission we embrace is what keeps newspapers vital, according to Caroline H. Little, president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America.
“In an era where anyone can say anything and call it news, it is newspaper content that consistently gets it right and keeps it in context. And a critical part of the industry evolution is the recognition that if you want to separate the serious from the sludge, it might cost you a little money,”
Little wrote in a recent column.
“Newspapers have proven they can function in print, on websites, in digital partnerships and as part of the social media scene. But they also can do what no one else can do. We are at the heart of our communities.”
Newspapers have inherited another important mission. Each edition is another page in the community’s history book.
The obituaries we publish can be a connection to events and individuals from two centuries ago. Some future researcher may read a story this week that will give him or her the key to a rusty, long-forgotten lock. What an honor. What a responsibility.
The crafting of history is what makes a newspaper part of the community.
It builds an unbreakable bond between families, the past and the future. You can read our work on a smartphone, a tablet or a computer screen, but the news is built upon a legendary foundation. What we write is arranged on pages easily accessible to everyone, for the benefit of all.
Newspapers are a crucial element to sidewalk democracy in this country and will always have a spot in the homes of engaged citizens.
The Founding Fathers wouldn’t have it any other way.
(David F. Sherman a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of approximately 75,000 homes. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)