COMMUNITY JOURNALISTS: PART ONE

those who keep the spirit alive for cities to survive

By Kim Poindexter, 2018 Inductee

On Wednesday, September 11, 2019, we had yet another example of why community newspapers are so important—and why community members should be paying attention to what’s being reported. 

We had an election for a city sales tax the previous day. Although our city has 7,756 registered voters, only 540 cast ballots. Perhaps for some, it wasn’t a big deal. After all, a half-cent tax that’s already on the books will roll off this month, and the new half-penny levy will come into play in January. 

What frustrates me is not so much the low voter turnout, but the inevitable call from a curmudgeon demanding to know why the newspaper never “reported” on the election. The next comment is usually an allegation that we were trying to “suppress” information because we media types are liberal, and we never met attacks we didn’t like. If we’re mum about it, only its proponents will cast ballots. 

The truth is, we did report on the election—several times. We analyzed it, took apart the numbers, and explained what the money was earmarked for. We also ran press releases from the city, a letter to the editor or two, and the mayor mentioned it two or three times in her column. We hosted a Saturday Forum discussion on our Facebook page, which is approaching 27,000 followers. Ultimately, we took an editorial position in favor of the tax.  

And yet, several people insisted they didn’t know about it, and rushed to blame their lack of information on someone; anyone really, except themselves. A few, when challenged on their dissembling, responded angrily that if we didn’t “charge” for the news, maybe they’d have seen it. News should be free, they insist, and they will not be dissuaded by reminders of how those who gather the news deserve to be paid for their efforts.  

Then there are two other groups of people, both of whom are readers. Members of the first group pay close attention to what we do, appreciate us, and value community newspapers. Those in the second group live to complain about us and accuse us of covering up, sensationalizing, or promoting liberal bias. We’ve been accused of conservative bias, too, but few of the indignant liberals want to disengage from the fact stream. We began to suspect long ago that while some older conservatives still value newspapers, the majority of those who still read—not just newspapers, but anything rational—tend to be left-leaning in their politics. And even though we offer an array of conservative columnists on our opinion page, we don’t see this changing anytime soon. 

Community newspapers will always be valued by those who understand that a city without one may be doomed to die. They also realize a free press is essential to our very way of life, and is the only filament hanging between them and a government that is answerable to no one. But then, there are those who think we shouldn’t be paid for that vital role. And still others who openly state they are fine without a free press, so long as the philosophies of those in power happened to align with their own.  

What we journalists must learn to do is to persuade the naysayers that they’re wrong about us, and that they need us. But, we will need the support of those who understand the Fourth Estate to make this happen. One of our roles is to persuade, but we’re going to need help with that.