Having access to reliable local news is important


By David Hejmanowski

Case Study

“Were it left to me to decide if we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to choose the latter.”

— Thomas Jefferson

“The newspaper is a greater to treasure to the people than uncounted millions of gold.”

— Henry Ward Beecher

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Richard Kluger once said that every time a newspaper ceased publication, “the country moves a little closer to authoritarianism.” He would know, seeing as he was the last literary editor for the New York Herald Tribune, before it ceased publication in 1966. In modern times, the question has not only been newspapers closing entirely, but also papers trying to walk the fine line between an established audience that is used to a physical, daily paper (and is, perhaps, a bit more tech-averse), and a newer audience that gets its news on their phones or tablets — much the same way that they might watch television or a movie.

A few weeks ago, the Delaware Gazette announced that it would be printing and delivering a physical newspaper only on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and would otherwise shift to digital delivery of its news through its website and through social media. This is not, by any means, a new concept. The Plain Dealer, Cleveland’s major paper, publishes a physical edition only on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Akron Beacon-Journal no longer prints on Mondays. The Seattle Post Intelligencer moved to an entirely electronic format way back in 2009.

The trend is not surprising. As advertisers move away from physical coupons and advertise more in electronic media, and as more and more subscribers cancel daily delivery, the margin in which newspapers can remain profitable gets smaller and smaller. A move to reduce print runs and delivery days saves money, while allowing the newspaper to do the important work that newspapers do in a free society — keep government honest and accountable.

But the situation is a catch-22 for the industry. If papers drop print publications to save money and stay alive, they have to hope to quickly court new digital subscribers because they risk the loss of longtime print subscribers who prefer a physical edition that they can hold in their hands each day. If those longtime print subscribers leave, then the risk grows that the entity simply doesn’t survive and a community loses the lifeline to its news.

I’m involved in a fair numbers of activities in government, education, music, theater, history, movies, and more. And despite the best efforts of those organizations to publicize their activities in every medium that they can think of, I invariably have several people say to me, days or weeks after an event, “Oh, I wish I’d known about that. Why didn’t you advertise it?” I’ve taken to saying, “We did. All over the place. Please tell me where you might be looking, so we can advertise there in the future.” And the answer, very often, is that unless Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram put the event directly in someone’s face, they simply have no way to know about it because they don’t subscribe to a newspaper that would reliably bring that information to them.

I’ve written this column for the Gazette since 2005, and I’m thrilled to say that I will continue to do so, and it will often appear in the printed Saturday edition as well as online. I’m also thrilled to note that excellent Gazette reporters from Jesse Carter to Andrew Tobias to Glenn Battishill and Gary Budzak in the present day (and far too many more to mention) have done an amazing job following city and county government, reporting on its activities, and bringing information to the paper’s readers that they simply wouldn’t have gotten any other way. At the same time, the paper has covered local sports, printed obituaries, provided church and activity calendars, covered school concerts and cultural happenings, and kept its readers informed despite its small but mighty staff. It is also the official location for published legal notices in the county.

Since the Gazette made the announcement about the change in its printing schedule, I have seen or read several friends simultaneously lament the loss of a daily newspaper, and yet express an intention to pull their support from their only local source of printed news. The logic of that sentiment escapes me, likely because it is completely illogical. If you want local news to survive, then you need to continue to support local news. And we should all want local news to survive and thrive — we need it to keep us informed, to bring us events, to watch our local government, and to see and serve up coverage of our city and county that we won’t get anywhere else.

That’s why I’ll continue, after 18 years, to write this column and to subscribe to the Gazette.

David Hejmanowski is judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, where he has served as magistrate, court administrator, and now judge, since 2003. He has written a weekly column on law and history for The Gazette since 2005.

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