A MONTHLY COLUMN TO NEWSPAPER PROFESSIONALS APRIL 2020
Newspapers are essential to our American dream
One of the reporters in our Sheldon office received an e-mail a week ago stating his child was no longer qualified to be taken care of by the local day-care facility. The e-mail came on Friday and the change went into effect on Monday. Never mind that the reporter’s spouse works at the local hospital and 4-month-old has been in the care of the facility since January.
The care facility, the e-mail said, “will begin to restrict care only to those families that meet the state qualification of an essential function in the workforce.”
The e-mail goes on to identify essential fields as “hospital staff, all health-care providers, those who provide critical government services, food service workers including a grocery store and limited restaurant workers and others approved by the Director of Human Service.”
I don’t have a problem with the child-care service making such a decision. Maybe they were suddenly short-handed by the coronavirus pandemic or overcrowded by a sudden influx of additional charges. Perhaps they had become concerned that the number of children in their building created an opportunity for the COVID-19 sickness to invade their space. Only they know why the sudden decision.
What does concern me, however, other than the short notice provided our writer, is the presumption that newspapers are not an essential business.
In those states that have already determined that residents must be a “safe in place” for an indefinite time, media companies and newspaper printing plants have been declared essential businesses. Their state governments expect them to stay open and keep the citizens informed.
Hometown newspapers such as The N’West Iowa REVIEW and our Sheldon Mail-Sun, Sioux Center News, Hawarden Independent/Ireton Examiner, and South O’Brien Sun are depended upon by their readers for accurate reporting of all aspects of what is happening in their area.
Why? Because we all want to know what is changing and how others in the community are reacting to the information.
We can easily get the national updates moment by moment from cable’s many news channels but none of those reports on what is happening right here where we live, have families, do our primary shopping, go to church, have children in school and are invested in agriculture and business ventures.
To say we don’t need newspapers because we have the internet is like saying we don’t need farmers because we have supermarkets.
Newspapers are the first recorders of our personal, professional and community history. From the time a person is born and listed in the birth report to when their obituary is published the hometown newspaper is the only media, local or national, to track and preserve the details of that person’s life.
Newspapers are the glue that holds the community together. The printed paper is where the community looks for credible reporting on everything from city hall to the school system, hospital and retail community to the local baseball field.
Newspaper also continue to be the best source for those pictures mothers and grandmothers like to hang on the refrigerator.
Newspapers are the first place a political candidate stops when visiting a community and it is where entertainment operations turn when they need to announce a postponement or cancellation of an earlier announced program.
Most importantly, the local paper is the local media turned to when there is a need to create consensus in a community. Through the sharing of facts, the reporting of ideas and sometimes a well-crafted editorial, the newspaper draws the residents into the need to make a unified decision regarding a tax issue, the repair of streets or other important questions.
Newspapers are social. They keep the readers in contact with others all through the community. They are the platform for businesses wanting to let others know about a sale, new merchandise and changes in their service or product lines.
Newspapers are where the community turns when they want to know about upcoming church suppers, birthday and wedding card showers, the amazing play by a local high school sports hero, and when there is no virus, where to go and what’s going on that weekend.
These are difficult times for all of us, but we have been through other times just as tough. The farm crisis during the early 1980s, for example. And 9/11.
Those of us that depend on advertising sales for our income — and that includes newspapers, shoppers, broadcasters and independent digital outlets — are going to be hard-pressed to stay in business. But our American form of government requires that the public be informed and we consider doing so a privilege and duty.
An old friend reminded me of an often-quoted statement sometimes attributed to H.L. Mencken, an American journalist, essayist and satirist: “It is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
That statement has never been more true.