This local newspaperman loves the Internet. In my world, it is possible Facebook hung the moon and I’m quite certain Twitter is actually the greatest thing since sliced bread. The Internet is just as revolutionary as the printing press was, but it isn’t the cause of death for Guttenberg’s greatest achievement. It is a flesh wound. A lot of great thinkers, some of them journalists, were talking about the demise of newspapers long before the phrase “Information Superhighway” existed.
As much as I love the Internet, it has not replaced our need for local news. The news you read in the pages of the Neighbor is not found in national newspapers, most of it isn’t covered by metro Atlanta’s large television news organizations and you cannot find our stories on hundreds of other websites. Stories about local taxes, school board and city council votes are found almost exclusively on our pages and a handful of community news websites like NeighborNewspapers.com. Google searches on local issues that are important to you will frequently return you to our pages.
The real threat to newspapers goes much deeper than the Internet. The decline of newspapers goes hand in hand with the decline of our sense of community. Earlier this year, Warren Buffett issued a letter to the 65 community newspapers he purchased, stating, “If a citizenry cares little about its community, it will eventually care little about its newspaper.” The less stake people have in their community, the less interested they are in the news that impacts their community. The more people distance themselves from their neighbors, the less they care about the neighborhood.
Now, I know the public regards journalists much in the same manner it regards car salesmen and lawyers, so you may not care what frustrates us. But the biggest frustration for journalists who report on the local level is that the general population cares more about the exploits of Honey Boo Boo and her pet pig Glitzy than they do about local issues and events.
Dr. Phil, the Kardashians and TMZ aren’t interested in your city council meeting or whether or not your local government plans to raise your property taxes. In fact — as far as they are concerned — if you live in any city in north Georgia, you live in “Atlanta.” As a result, most people are much more concerned about who the next American Idol judge is than which candidates are running for judge in their community.
If you’re reading this, you are most likely in tune with local issues that impact your community. You participated in the political process by voting in the election last month and you know what the letters T-SPLOST stand for.
I’m probably preaching to the choir. Look next door. Does your neighbor routinely read the newspaper and engage in local issues? Or is it more likely they are inside catching up on which celebrities TMZ stalked at the airport today?
For all of the glitz, glamour and gossip that consumes the daily lives of most Americans, what we’re missing out on is the beauty of the local community. Every person has a story to tell. There are far more interesting people in your neighborhood, city and county than you will ever see on television.
There are nonprofit directors who have amazing stories. They didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to do good. There are teachers and school principals who are absolutely fascinating and there is a powerful backstory behind some of these educators. Do you know what drives the football coach at your local high school? Every week, we tell you their stories and the stories of some of the area’s most remarkable student athletes.
The strength of community is in the stories these people have to tell. The strength of community newspapers is in their ability to tell those stories and to shine a light on all of the people who make the community work. They may be politicians and elected officials, or they may be the inspirational and influential average citizens whose names you would only know by picking up your local newspaper.
Local newspapers reflect the community. Not all newspapers are dying. In fact, they are flourishing wherever there is a strong sense of community.
But, if you are concerned about the future of local newspapers, you can do your local print journalists a small favor. The next time someone comes over to your house and all they want to talk about is Honey Boo Boo or Dr. Phil or American Idol’s new judge, offer them your copy of the newspaper. If they refuse, roll up the paper — and smack them with it.
Brian T. Clark is managing editor of Neighbor Newspapers and a sixth-generation Georgian. He and his wife, Heather, live in Alpharetta.