This is National Newspaper Week, and the theme this year is “Newspapers Matter: Now More Than Ever”.
Popular wisdom holds that people don’t read newspapers anymore. Well, if you’re reading these words you’re obviously reading a newspaper, whether you’re doing so online or via a physical newspaper. Each week, nine in 10 Canadians read content that was originally generated from a newspaper, where stories are written by trained journalists whose job it is to be impartial and objective, sort out fact from fiction, use trusted sources, and confirm facts.
It’s a sad fact that many newspapers have disappeared from the landscape, having fallen victim to a number of factors. Many advertisers have abandoned newspapers for social media, in the mistaken belief that “everyone” can be reached there. Many readers are reluctant to pay for a newspaper, either daily or weekly, because there is a plethora of free online news sources available to them.
However, consider those free sources, bearing in mind the adage that you get what you pay for. Newspapers pay people to write content (the trained journalists mentioned above), and have bills to pay, which is why they generally charge something for people to read them. Who is writing the content for those free news sources? Are they double-checking facts, using reliable sources, and showing they’re unbiased?
As for social media as a news source, I think back to the Elephant Hill wildfire in 2017, and the sheer volume of misinformation, speculation, and rumour that was being circulated under the guise of being “news” about what was going on. For the first week or so, not a day went by when I wasn’t busy debunking the latest piece of “news” that I got wind of on social media. There was widespread looting in Cache Creek! (No, there wasn’t.) The entire town was burning to the ground! (No, it wasn’t.) People could get a pass to go through the roadblock to check on homes, pets, etc.! (No, they couldn’t.) The fire had been started by sparks from a train! (No, it wasn’t.) Ashcroft was being evacuated! (No, that didn’t happen.)
Every time one of these stories popped up, I was able to get in touch with reliable sources (the RCMP, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, BC Wildfire Service, etc.) and establish what, if any, basis in fact it had, then report on it in an objective and non-sensationalized way. Because of that, during and after the event I had scores of people congratulating The Journal for being a reassuring voice that presented the facts, making it the first place they went to for news and updates.
And thank goodness papers like The Journal, which serve our smaller communities, still exist. The Elephant Hill wildfire captured national and international attention, and many large news outlets sent reporters to the area and covered the story. However, once the initial story was over, they disappeared. “If it bleeds, it leads” is one of their guiding maxims, meaning they show up in small communities when there is a disaster or tragedy, report on it, then move one, leaving it to local news outlets — if there are any — to do all the follow-up stories arising from a major event.
For that is the strength of community newspapers: reporting on the stories that won’t get covered anywhere else. Yes, they cover the big stories, but they’re also there week after week with stories about the myriad things that make up the fabric of our communities. Citizen of the Year, the triumphs of 4-H Club members, how the soccer season is going, the results of a study about downtown improvement, the local choir or arts group’s upcoming concert or play, new support services available: all this and much more is important to local readers, and won’t get covered anywhere else.
So during National Newspaper Week, show your support for community newspapers, and the industry in general, by sending a message to the Canadian government, to business, and to journalists that Newspapers Matter: Now More Than Ever, by pledging your support at www.newspapersmatter.ca. Thank you.