Last week was National Newspaper Week, which we were unable to acknowledge due to our efforts to get ballot measure endorsements and candidate comparisons published before ballots started hitting mailboxes.
But now that the election is well underway, it’s worth revisiting the unique role a free press — and community newspapers in particular — plays in a democracy.
The Founders did put the First Amendment first, knowing what they knew about the importance of an independently informed public to the whole operation.
Newspapers are the way that the public stays informed about local news in communities like ours all over the country. Without them, the flow of independent information to citizens would dry up almost completely.
Around the country, due to the changing economics of the business, about 2,000 newspapers have gone out of business, creating “news deserts” where there really is nobody paying attention. This is a substantial crisis for our country.
Last month we asked our Congressional delegation to support the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, which would allow newspaper subscribers to take a tax credit for the cost of a subscription. The measure has 72 cosponsors from both parties in the U.S. House of Representatives, though none yet from Colorado.
Unbeknown to us at the time, Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet was working on his own bill to help save local news. On Sept. 24, Bennet introduced the Future of Local News Commission Act. It would create a commission to study the state of local journalism and offer recommendations to Congress on the actions it can take to support local news organizations.
“Local news is foundational to our democracy, but a convergence of forces — from consolidation to social media to COVID-19 — has pushed newsrooms across America to the brink,” said Bennet. “I worry deeply about an America without local reporters on the beat to hold officials accountable and engage citizens in the events shaping their communities. My hope is that this commission will — in a nonpartisan, sober, and thoughtful manner — come forward with recommendations to help reinvigorate local journalism across the country while preserving the independence vital to a free and robust press.”
Among other things, the commission would “examine potential new mechanisms for public funding for the production of local news to meet the critical information needs of the people of the United States and address systemic inequities in media coverage and representation throughout the country.”
Whether public funding is a good idea or not, the commission would at least work from a premise that newspapers are too important to slide into oblivion from forces beyond their control — from digital behemoths to the pandemic.
If the Sentinel were to disappear, there would be nobody keeping an eye on those in power. They would be able to get away with pretty much anything, because they could just put out their own public-relations spin to explain away whatever they’re doing. Who else would do that work? Your Facebook friends?
The fact that you are reading this editorial suggests that you support, in some way, the continued existence of this particular newspaper. We thank you sincerely for that. We ask that you continue your support, and that you support newspapers generally across the country.
Newspapers are the standard-keeper, and, if you’ll indulge us, we’ll take a minute to salute, well, ourselves and our colleagues around the country.