Publisher’s Letter: The Canary in the Coal Mine
By Patrick Wood
Publisher, Multimedia Channels
The expression “the canary in the coal mine” refers to a practice miners used to test for poisonous gas in a coal mine—they would send a canary down in a cage, and if the bird came back dead, that told them to watch out, there are dangerous conditions in the mine. The phrase has come to mean more generally that a recent development should be viewed as an early warning of adverse conditions and danger.
In our modern time, newspapers are to a community like the canary was to the miner. Between 2004 and 2018, approximately 1,800 newspapers sold their presses and shut their doors. Now, over 200 counties in the United States do not have any newspaper to report on local news and happenings. Many more counties have only one newspaper.
When a community newspaper stops reporting the local news such as City and School Board meetings, high school sports and other events, it is a harbinger of a decline in the health of the community’s civic life. You can bet that if the newspaper has closed down, other important markers of a rich and vibrant community experience are suffering.
A common process: smaller papers sell themselves to the big publicly-traded corporate chains, which in turn sell themselves to hedge funds that turn the screws on the publications to milk them dry. Sometimes a newspaper chain goes bankrupt, shedding its debt in a court- ordered restructuring and damaging or destroying the vendors—usually smaller companies—that supply it with goods and services. Money many times seems to trump ethics and morality.
When a newspaper stops covering local news, who will replace that hole—Google, Facebook/Instagram, Amazon? Not. As a general rule, tech giants are not in the habit of hiring reporters to gather the news, and often they don’t even bother making sure that the stories they spread on their platforms are accurate or true. They hire clever lawyers to reduce and even eliminate their federal tax burden, and all the while they are spying on you, tracking every single click on your desktop and swipe on your phone.
Here is one place where we need the government to step in. These corporations are monopolies that know no bounds. Only the government is powerful enough to restrain their predatory behavior, and give the companies that actually collect the news a fighting chance.
Here’s how you can help.
- Ask your Senators and congressional representative what they are doing to regulate these behemoths.
- Support local businesses that put the monies they earn back into the community.
- Read and support your local newspaper with your subscription to their print or online offerings.
We have to stand up now for local news coverage before the local newspaper and website is destroyed by greedy outside predators. If not now, then all that will be left of local coverage is a few disgruntled blogs… and silence.