Commentary: Newspapers show that journalism matters to all
By Gene Kemmeter
Newspapers across the nation are observing the 78th annual National Newspaper Week next week, Oct. 7-13. The theme, “Journalism matters. NOW more than ever,” points to the situation that forces are working to damage the public’s right-to-know within this democratic republic.
The theme reflects the importance of accurate reporting, watchdog journalism, thought-provoking commentary, comprehensive public notices and an open public forum that can be easily accessible for readers to check for truthfulness. Each newspaper has a unique relevance as a government watchdog.
Nearly 250 years ago, the Founding Fathers adopted the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to provide the means to make sure its government couldn’t hinder the people’s right to know or silence opinions that opposed those in power. They realized that if democracy was to function as intended, journalism had to have the power to keep tabs on government.
Newspapers cover a variety of topics. There’s photos of ribbon-cuttings, donations to food pantries and community events. There’s reports on decisions made by governmental bodies, tragedies, obituaries and birth announcements, and stories on sports activities and people in the community.
I’m biased. I’ve been involved in journalism virtually my entire adult life, and I spent time as a youth reading two newspapers each day and four or five on Sunday. But that was a different age, before television was available 24 hours per day, with an assortment of news channels, and the internet was a developing concept, still decades from becoming reality.
The Portage County Gazette was founded in 1999 with the intention to provide the Portage County area with a journalistic source for news and information. The founders had been involved in news reporting for more than a combined 100 years and wanted those cherished virtues to continue for future generations.
Since that time, the newspaper industry found its readers and others were seeking free “news” on the internet to get their information, even though those “freebies” were undependable, irresponsible or unreliable, and usually were one’s opinion or propaganda, rather than facts.
Some began claiming traditional media printed “fake news” and failed to report stories that ultimately turned out to be bogus or fiction. Americans turned to social media as their source of information, only to find out later that a story was a figment of the imagination or an attempt to purposely mislead readers.
Local newspapers are undoubtedly the most trustworthy sources for news and information for a number of reasons. Newspapers are staffed with real people – reporters, photographers, editors who gather the news, conduct interviews, cover meetings, attend events, write, edit, fact-check and make sure readers can trust what they read. Staffs are not shadowy figures masquerading as others, as is often the case on the internet.
Newspapers rely on recognizable sources. Quotes in articles are attributed to real people and can be easily verified. Sources give readers context and balance. Newspapers are committed to the neighborhoods, cities, counties, states and coverage areas they serve. Journalism exists to keep people informed, spreading knowledge and providing viewpoints from different perspectives to show people they need to take part in their governments.