Let’s Get Smarter: Local newspapers are essential

The Herald’s Oct. 6 editorial, about the mounting challenges facing small newspapers, likely touched many loyal readers who agree it is essential we all support this public good.

Yet plenty of people in this region boast they don’t read the Herald at all, let alone subscribe to it. They bleat such a conceit as if it were evidence of their vastly evolved erudition, or a sure sign of their supreme busyness. Some of these ersatz elites constantly ask their friends who are Herald subscribers to send links or screenshots or clips of stories they missed, especially if said stories mentioned their name.

A few of these non-reader cheaters are the same people who corner Herald subscribers (and at least one reporter) to ask questions like whether the movie theater is coming back, or what’s happening with the road diet, or what is the significance of a major global venture firm’s investment in the region’s economic growth. Of course, all of these topics have been reported in this newspaper.

To be sure, some might view the Oct. 6 editorial solely as a business proposition, i.e., more subscribers mean more eyeballs and, consequently, more revenue for the paper from local businesses. Yet, aren’t all those factors evidence of a bustling local economy, and isn’t that a noble purpose we all should support? Local newspapers are key catalysts for that noble purpose.

Even more is at stake than local business, however. People who are so dismissive and disdainful of local newspapers — not just here, but in other cities and towns — could succeed in ultimately obliterating a precious, civic asset that is crucial for objective public discourse about serious community issues.

Countless studies from authoritative sources, such as Columbia Journalism Review, rebuildlocalnews.org, University of North Carolina, and Lenfest Institute (whose $20M endowment funds Philadelphia’s dailies) substantiate this threat. Their scholarly research indicates that when such a crucial civic asset vanishes, so does a community’s ability to hold public officials accountable, bolster essential local services and champion dedicated nonprofits.

Moreover, in a public health crisis, such as an epidemic or a disaster like last summer’s floods, government agencies often rely on local news sources — rather than social media — to help identify and contain such crises.

To that point, on Aug. 8, the Herald and Times Argus ran a high-spirited editorial thanking Vermonters who wrote from around the world to extol the papers’ coverage of the floods and other horrific events occurring that month. As loyal readers are aware, local reporters navigated treacherous roads and other hazards to bring us news about Vermonters’ astounding resilience, while also chronicling their unavoidable anguish.

In contrast, Vermonters and others who observed the floods primarily by watching the cabal of cable commentators wading through our towns in their designer Wellies, saw only the devastation. National newspapers also reported on the flooding here — including graphic photos — that focused more on nature’s capacity for destruction rather than on Vermonters’ determination to persevere and rebuild.

Perhaps you, too, have family members, friends or acquaintances who don’t read this newspaper or any other small regional papers. How much different are they from out-of-towners who wonder if the road diet is a weight-loss marathon on asphalt? Or from those who don’t know why Planet Fitness is now taking over what used to be a popular movie theater. Or, from those who don’t know what StartUp Rutland even is, let alone that the year-old business accelerator on Merchants Row is partnering with a world-class venture fund that will help drive unprecedented economic growth throughout our region.

If that’s the case, then email those non-readers, perhaps in all caps, that they’d be a whole lot smarter if they subscribed to this newspaper.

Unless, that is, you actually like being asked constantly to email your links or screenshots to them, or to clip stories for them, or even to read verbatim to them from that newspaper or mobile device you’re holding. Think smarter: Is that the best thing to do for this community?

Liz DiMarco Weinmann lives in Rutland.

Posted in

Liz DiMarco Weinmann

Founder | Creator | Owner: B.E.A.M.-Impact Generator©