Newspaper Woes Continue, Facts Matter For Democracy’s Sake

Long-form journalism is imperative for a well-informed citizenry. Consider what local television news allows for time spent on a story about city hall or a proposed development. Now consider how much more is gained with background and a fuller perspective on those same news events when reading about them in your local newspaper. There is no way to deny the importance of local journalism. Equally, there is no way not to feel a collective loss when a newspaper, even far away, shutters windows and turns off the presses.

I heard this week on the radio that The Salinas Californian is officially a newspaper without journalists, its last reporter having left the 152-year-old now Gannett-owned periodical.

When brown water overflowed the banks of the Salinas River in January, flooding thousands of acres and throwing an untold number of farmworkers out of jobs, the leading newspaper in this agricultural mecca did not cover the story.

Candidates in the November race for mayor also went absent from the pages of the 152-year-old news outlet. Ditto non-coverage of a police staffing shortage so serious that the police chief said the department might not have enough cops to respond to all complaints of theft, fraud, vandalism, prowling and prostitution.

The Salinas Californian missed those stories, understandably, because it employed only one journalist until December. That’s when the paper’s last reporter quit to take a job in TV. The departure marked the latest and perhaps final step in a slow-motion unwinding of what used to be the principal local news source in this city of 163,000.

Owned by the largest newspaper publisher in the nation, Gannett, the venerable Californian now carries stories from the chain’s USA Today flagship and its other California papers. The only original content from Salinas comes in the form of paid obituaries, making death virtually the only sign of life at an institution once considered a must-read by many Salinans.

The lack of local reporting has drawn complaints from the mayor, a county supervisor and everyday citizens who say the public life of their community has been diminished by the lack of a dependable source of local news.

But in the midst of that news came a truly upbeat story about a source for long-form journalism getting a reprieve from ceasing operations. The Texas Democracy Foundation, the nonprofit parent of the Texas Observer, told its staff Monday that it was planning laying off employeesincluding journalists and editors—and ceasing publication on Friday, March 31, 2023. They organized a Go Fund Me site and yesterday it was reported Thanks to your incredible generosity and outpouring of support, the board of directors voted to reverse the closure and layoffs.

The publication noted earlier this week why the continuing work of their journalists matters to the public. What does the Observer mean to its journalists and to Texans? Editorial independence and journalistic freedom have been the hallmarks of the Observer since its founding in 1954. The publication has been freer—less encumbered by the demands of business, advertisers and grantmakers—than any other publication of its stature. As such, the institution has been a proving ground for countless journalists over the years and continuing to this day, and a vital watchdog to extremists, corporations and politicians who would harm Texas and Texans.

It does not require this blogger to point out at the same time that the Fox political talk show television network has conned viewers into accepting lies in the guise of news, actual newspaper reporters and journalists are working to do all they can to continue the mission of their profession. Our nation must have an educated citizenry but over the past six years, we have witnessed what happens when the weak-minded turn away from fact-based news sources. In our home, support for newspaper journalism is demonstrated locally with the Wisconsin State Journal landing on our front stoop but we also have three online subscriptions for news and OP-Ed pages from Washington, Boston, and Chicago. We gain tons of insight and background, but I also strongly feel it is a duty to add our assistance to the industry that is a foundation for our democracy.

We used to have Republicans who could stand up and speak about the need for strong journalism, and robust newspapers, such as when Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal stated in 2012 that ‘I think it’s important for democracy. We’ve got robust news gathering organizations. I think the daily newspaper, the printed newspaper, plays an important role in holding government accountable, uniting our people.

Walter Cronkite, the former CBS News anchor, known affectionately as ‘Uncle Walter’, stated a few decades ago that his news show only skimmed the headlines, and for the public to get a more complete view of the world they needed to read their morning newspaper.  His idea was sound when he first said it, and it is just as accurate today.  Newspapers should play an integral part in a citizen’s daily life.  

Too many Americans in the 21st century, however, gave up reading a newspaper and slipped further into intellectual decay by believing Fox is a newsgathering operation. It is not. We have the evidence and it is soon to be told in a courtroom. Real reporters and journalists have been replaced by echo chambers of far-right lingo and male resentments that further proves Fox is not in any way a legitimate news-gathering or reporting operation. What they have demonstrated is why newspapers and real journalists are important, now more than ever.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s