Admittedly, I have a dog in the fight. But so do you.
The condition of local news in this country is distressing. In fact, according to a new report from PEN America, it is a “national crisis” resulting in an ill-informed citizenry. That is kind of important when it comes to voting or even being motivated to vote. And it is kind of important when it comes to holding officials accountable or knowing how your tax dollars are spent.
As the report, released last week, reads: “A vibrant, responsive democracy requires enlightened citizens, and without forceful local reporting they are kept in the dark. At a time when political polarization is increasing and fraudulent news is spreading, a shared fact-based discourse on the issues that most directly affect us is more essential and more elusive than ever.”
OK, OK, that might sound like a bit of self- importance. And it probably resonates with somebody who has been in the news business for 30 years more than it does with you. But, as Thomas Jefferson once wrote: “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.”
Yes, we’ve used that quote before; we’ll probably use it again. Such is the heft of a Thomas Jefferson quote. If Jefferson had written, “I should wish that every man endeavor to eat a kumquat every day of his life,” we’re guessing the Consortium of Kumquat Eaters would frequently remind us of those words.
PEN America is a New York-based nonprofit that, according to its website, “stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide.” A couple years ago, the organization launched a study of areas where local news is scarce and found that they are more numerous than expected. Since 2004, more than 1,800 local print publications have closed; more than 200 counties have no newspaper at all.