The Need for Newspapers

In the local media circles, we’re running out of shoes.

After several weeklies in the Hudson Valley closed or merged, another shoe dropped as the Daily Freeman reports that the Ulster County Press has shuttered its doors. Anyone concerned about the importance of living in a free, democratic society should be alarmed.

The Freeman wrote that the “closing of the Ulster County Press follows that of the Journal Register Company-owned Taconic Press Group last week. The closing of the group’s eight papers, seven of which covered Dutchess County, came a week after the closing of The Independent, a twice-weekly Columbia County newspaper also owned by the Journal Register Company, parent of the Freeman.”

In all seriousness, this is worse that the financial markets meltdown of 2008. Here’s why:

The role of an independent-of-government media was defined by Thomas Jefferson at the founding of this country as a cornerstone of democracy. The basic idea was that newspapers would be a critical part of the checks and balances of democracy by informing citizens and shedding light on important issues of the day. Basically, an informed populace is the fabric of a democratic society.

Of course, over time, newspapers in the U.S. changed and evolved. All had grown into political leanings — right, left and center. But the core tenets of journalism remained consistent even as the op-ed pages touted political positions.

When radio and television entered the picture, many warned of the demise of newspapers. But newspapers thrived because of the expertise of its news gatherers. How many of you reading this now remember television and radio stations reading headlines and citing stories from newspapers? In fact, other “media channels” still rely on what print media does best, which is to gather original content.

But over the past decade, the newspaper industry has faced some incredible headwinds. From overall declining readership to the growth of digital media, newspapers have struggled to remain relevant. Print media has tried to reinvent itself over and over again, but the cold fact is that consumers today want content that is online and they want it for free.

And this is why newspapers are dying. Free online content is not a business model that works for traditional print media.

Simultaneously, there’s been a rise in “citizen journalism” in the form of blogs and websites. Most of these sites aggregate news. There’s little original reporting done. The sites that do break news are few and far between.

So why is this so troublesome? Because without newspapers and the traditional methods of news gathering  (sending a reporter to cover town meetings, check the police blotter, meet with the mayor, profile a business, report on a fire, car accident, sporting event, whatever), valuable information will go missing. And without that information, people will be unable to make informed decisions. And this is where our fragile and precious democracy will crack.

As someone who has worked at several newspapers and has given lectures to young journalism students considering making it a career, I would often ask them why? “Why do you want to become a journalist? The pay is lousy. The hours are long. People will rarely praise your work, and when you make a mistake, they will never let you forget it. So why?” I would say.

Over the years, the student responses were always the same: “It’s exciting work! You get to meet interesting people. It’s valuable to society and democracy,” they would say. And I agree, reaffirming my own beliefs in why journalists and print media in particular is important.

So, with that in mind, I would encourage you to not only read newspapers. But to buy them. The Freeman costs 50 cents each day and is full of information. The Kingston Times costs a buck, and is good for a week. It’s a small investment, one that can shore up the foundations of this great country.

— Arthur Zaczkiewicz

10 thoughts on “The Need for Newspapers

  1. Thank you for addressing this! It is (in my opinion) a “biggy.” Yes, these blogs (I have one too) are great; but there is nothing that could or should (what if our intenet connections were all to go bust for some reason?) replace newspapers – and to see them shutting down, one after one – is (for all the reasons you mentioned, plus some) alarming!

    And – although economically based for some or all of these papers – there are other signs of “danger” (for all the reasons you mentioned, plus some) – with the switch to digital TV (for lack of a better quick description) – carrying with it the potential to leave many (expecially the economically destitute) – in a visual (a lot of folks already lost HBO and shows like Bill Maher’s) blackout…

    And – the continued black-out (or rather “fuzz-out”) of our local public access television (KAPA) – due to (amongst other things) a refusal on the part of the City of Kingston to fund the station… [This sort of thing, if the You Tube videos I’ve viewed on the subject are accurate, has been an issue (This is serious business folks! Anyone read Orwell’s 1984?) for many public access stations across the nation!

    Speaking of which, there is a City of Kingston Finance committee meeting tonight – at Ciy Hall (important notice that you can currently catch over on my blog, along with some others – at http://www.spreadingourwings.blogspot.com) – at which funding for KAPA wil again (and again and again and again…) be requested —

    So please show up (if you can) – and show your support there too!

    This IS serious business folks!

    The newspapers, our television service, Public Access television, even some radio stations…

    How important (I’m on my first sips of am coffee and already in a tizzy…!) are your civil rights (“freedom of speech” – “freedom of the press” – etc) to YOU?

    Your newspapers, public access stations, blogs, etc – are as important as your food pantries – because you need to know if food pantries even exist, where they are, etc…

    And – if you want to continue to live in a participatory multifacted [Your views are worth something! You and your children and your grandchildren are worth something!] Democracy!

    Iyi. More coffee…

    I will probably post this on Kingston Citizen. org – and on my blog (perhaps accompanied by some other information and research, as I wake up here…) – as well.

    Thank you for this!

    Nancy S. Smith

  2. I am a member of the League of Women Voters of the Mid-Hudson region. The League has an Observer Corps, which attends government meetings, primarily Ulster County, and writes up a short summary. These summaries are published in the League’s newsletter the Commentary .
    The Mid-Hudson League has done this for years. It is increasingly needed, as the local papers can not or do not send reporters.
    If you attend local meetings and want to be involved in the Observer Corps, contact the League at: http://midhudson.ny.lwvnet.org/index.html

  3. Although it appears as if you didn’t choose to post my previous submission (?) – I am going to attempt to place this here anyhow…

    UPDATE:

    Interestingly, KAPA Commissioner Bob Smith just received a phone call from Arlene at Kingston City Hall that the Finance Committee meeting that was scheduled for tonight has been CANCELLED – with no rescheduled date (ahem) settle upon yet…

    This, immediately after my having posted notices about it (coincidence?) on this blog, the Kingston Citizen’s blog and the Kingston Citizens Ward group (Wards 1-9) sites.

    Please do call City Hall [334-3955] though, just to confirm this… and, if you are so inclined, perhaps (re the rescheduling…) your city Alderman, the Alderman at Large and/or Mayor Sottile, as well.

    And please do check out the photos, videos, etc. at http://www.spreadingourwings.blogspot.com

    Thank You,

    NS

  4. Excellent points all, Arthur, but you’re perhaps too subtle in underscoring the importance of a strong, daily newspaper as pure old-fashioned “watchdog” against government abuse of not just participatory democracy but also the public purse.

    The very notion of a community, such as ours, whose political culture very recently allowed the systematic theft of $30-40 MM in taxpayer funds (the equivalent of the annual City Of Kingston budget) from a public-works project, the county jail, finding itself bereft of any dedicated, ongoing scrutiny by a daily newspaper is something that ought to keep local taxpayers up at night, worried out of their wits.

    The Daily Freeman and the Kingston Times have their (serious) shortcomings, starting with the fact that they’re not nearly as tenacious and tough as they need to be, but without them, I don’t even like to contemplate where we’re headed, in terms of political conduct and governmental transparency.

  5. This is certainly an important issue. Unfortunately, printing ink on paper and trucking it around the countryside may, in and of itself, be an unsupportable business model. If for no other reason than the fact that distribution costs remain high while concentrations of customers grows increasingly thin as people migrate to the web for national news and let their interest in local issues atrophy.

    But it seems to me that we will have to step in as citizen journalists and fill the gap. It is not a choice I’m advocating for. It is a choice that may well be inevitable.

    OF COURSE there are major downsides to this. Not the least of which is the digital divide. Folks with limited resources may not be able to access the work of citizen journalists. But we need to create content for local issues and then work on bridging these divides.

    The question is, how to generate revenue streams to support micro-media.

    And there is a silver lining to this dark cloud. Traditional publishing has always concentrated editorial power in the hands of a limited number of publishers.

    Often, their agendas have skewed the public debate and quashed coverage of important issues as effectively as not publishing at all. The rise of the internet has clearly had a positive impact on the diversification of ideas and opinions and has allowed all sides of the political spectrum to share their point of view. The internet may well have primed Americans to make new choices in the last Presidential campaign by covering issues that would have gone un-covered by the mainstream media in the years since 9-11.

    The argument can be made that this “citizen journalism” countered what many of us saw as a conservative bias in the national media.

    The long and short of it is, we need to get the KingstonNavigator a revenue stream.

    **

  6. Thanks Mark and Hayes for your comments…

    I think the decentralization of mainstream media is a good thing. Jefferson also said a “little rebellion” is needed now and again to maintain a healthy democracy, and this is what’s happening to the Fourth Estate right now.

  7. Please note, the Kingston Mardi Gras Parade has been cancelled for Saturday.
    Quite a long article in todays Freeman about events like this that may not happen in the furture.

    DC

  8. Hmmm, I don’t like the Freeman, but better to read them and support them at the same time one works toward their improvement. But the Kingston Times is where I’ll see some good writing: now that’s a local paper! And the Herald Record is showing up more strongly in the area. And the Herald Reporters have been alerting Facebook readers to news relevant to their groups… that helps a lot.
    I’ll take them up on their special offer… $1 a week.

Leave a Comment