Newspapers sharpen the vision of communities they serve
Editor’s Note: Join SCPA in celebrating National Newspaper Week Oct. 1-7! In addition to the column below, we also have a quarter page S.C. promo ad. Additional print and digital ads, columns and editorial cartoons are available on the National Newspaper Week site for download at no charge.
By Richard Whiting
President, S.C. Press Association
Were you at the city council meeting?
Were you at the school board meeting?
Were you at the county council meeting?
Of those that livestream, did you watch the meeting? No? Why?
Well, likely because you’re busy. You have kids to deal with, dinners to fix, games and rehearsals to take the kids to or maybe, just maybe, you’re too tired and just wanted to enjoy a favorite TV program. After all, you know you can check out your community newspaper’s website or read the next edition to find out what happened at those meetings.
That’s largely the case here in Greenwood and much of the Lakelands, but not so across much of the national landscape where newspapers are closing down at an alarming rate — an estimated two per week.
At my newspaper, the Index-Journal, we have served much of Greenwood and surrounding counties for more than 100 years. Community weeklies dot our area’s counties, too. Abbeville County has The Press & Banner, McCormick County now has a combined product, The Journal Messenger & Reporter, that serves it and communities across the state line in Georgia. Saluda County has the Saluda Standard-Sentinel. And bordering on Greenwood County’s lake are two community papers, The Clinton Chronicle and Laurens County Advertiser.
In a sense, our region is an anomaly in that it doesn’t match the national decline of newspapers large and small. Still, two smaller community papers in the Lakelands did shutter their doors in recent years — the Star and Beacon in Ninety Six and the Ware Shoals Observer.
When newspapers have been serving their communities for decades, people might have a tendency to take them for granted. It’s sort of like flipping the light switch in your home. You just expect a light to turn on. But what if a tree downed a power line? You probably instinctively flip the switch and then realize the power is out. You are shrouded in darkness.
The darkened house is only temporary, though, because within a few hours or maybe a few days, the utility company gets everyone back on the grid and back in the light.
However, that’s not the case when a newspaper goes dark. When their owners are forced to make that decision to shut down the press, turn out the lights and vacate the premises, a shroud of darkness is also cast over the community it served.
Rather suddenly no one is covering the public bodies’ meetings. No one is sharing the wins and losses of beloved high school sports teams. No one is letting a wide audience know about concerts, plays and other events they might want to attend, and no one is covering those events. No one is sharing human interest feature stories from within the community. No one is alerting residents that someone wants to open a bar near their home, that someone has died and has an estate in probate or someone has property in foreclosure.
A community newspaper is a one-stop repository filled with a wealth of news and information relevant to the people it serves. Facebook, X, TikTok, Instagram? Sure, they provide information. How relevant in the grand scheme of things? Not so much, unless what is most important to the audience is what someone fixed for dinner, what new item of clothing someone bought, what new hair-do a friend has, what ballgame or concert people are attending.
All of that is fine, of course, but it’s not as important to people’s daily lives as knowing if your property taxes are going up and why. It’s not as important as knowing how your elected officials are spending your money, what ordinances are being enacted or what zoning changes are being considered.
You see, while people go about their daily lives and live them out on social media, journalists are going about the business of covering the community, from investigating potential wrongdoing among the elected and appointed officials to attending and reporting on the meetings they cannot or, let’s be honest here, do not want to attend. They’re giving readers tips on how they can spend their weekends and telling them how the area high school teams did in Friday night’s football games.
This week, Oct. 1-7, is National Newspaper Week. We don’t ask you to sing our praises because of that. Rather, we ask you to take into account all that your newspaper provides and delivers to your fingertips, and then we ask that you support it. Support it with your subscription, support it with your advertising and yes, if we ask, support it with your donations because in reality every week is National Newspaper Week.
Without a steady flow of revenue community newspapers cannot survive and the day might come when it goes dark. When it goes dark, the community’s ability to truly know itself, discover itself and even govern itself is blurred and dimmed in much the same way a person’s eyesight is diminished by cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration.
Newspapers, and their respective digital platforms, shed light on the communities they serve. The communities control whether that light stays on.
Richard Whiting is executive editor of the Index-Journal in Greenwood. He also serves as President and FOI Chair of the South Carolina Press Association, which serves the state’s 15 daily and 67 weekly newspapers.
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