February 2013

Support your local paper

A guy goes into the local “Kwik-e- Mart” and asks for a giant Squishie.

“That will be two twenty-nine.”

He grabs a candy bar.

“That is a dollar-thirty.”

Then he picks up the local paper.

“Seventy-five cents.”

“WHAT? For that rag? Seventy-five cents? Never mind.”

Or consider this common scenario. A woman sits down in a coffee shop. There is a newspaper rack nearby with a sign clearly saying, “50 cents.” Carefully she worms one of the papers out and reads the entire thing over breakfast. Then she smoothes out the pages and puts it back. “I didn’t steal anything!” she tells herself smugly.

That’s the way it goes in the newspaper business these days. You just can’t get any respect.

Newspapers large and small are dwindling, shrinking, melting away like the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz. Even the mighty New York Times is struggling, pushing 30 veteran journalists to take buyouts, dismantling its environmental department.

But despite their increasing scarcity, papers are constantly mocked and denigrated. Too liberal, too mainstream, not interested enough in conspiracy theories.

Well, so what? Who needs newspapers, anyway? We have so many media outlets: Fox News, MSNBC, Huffington Post, Slate, a plethora of other Internet sources. Turn on your computer and your home page will deluge you with news. You can even see your local paper online. So who needs an antiquated old fish wrapper?

Let’s imagine our world without papers:

Because there was no Washington Post in the 1970s, Richard “I am not a Crook” Nixon never had to resign from office, because his arrogant, corrupt and illegal activities were never uncovered. There followed a reign of increasingly imperial presidencies and endless wars; the United States is now bogged down in 17 “police actions” around the globe.

Mainstream newspapers have ceased publishing entirely because, after they abandoned their print editions, they found they could not support themselves through the much-cheaper Internet advertising alone.

Rush Limbaugh still holds forth on his daily radio show, but he finds little to say, because he can no longer quote from the New York Times in every other sentence.

The marvelous “free news” has disappeared from people’s home Web pages because there is no one to gather it.

At the local level, the “citizen journalists” who promised to monitor municipal boards and councils and keep people informed got tired of not being paid, and quit writing.

Thus, the most objective and reliable source of local-government reporting is the meeting minutes. They’re thorough, but there is no focus on what is most important; the meetings are detailed in often-dull chronological order.

Many local boards broadcast their meetings live or put video recordings on the Internet; however, very few citizens have the resolve to watch all the often-tedious blathering, so they have little information about what their town board or special district is doing.

Montezuma County is proposing a half-cent sales tax to improve roads. The only sources of information about the proposal are the county itself, a few ill-attended forums, and the mailings sent around to voters. There is no credible, mainstream source to offer any objective analysis of the proposal.

Citizens wanting to follow local news and government actions have to check two dozen different web sites on a regular basis, including the 9-12ers’ “Daily Constitutional Update,” the “Sky Is Falling” Environmentalists’ Blog, the Anarchists’ “What to do After the Sky Has Fallen” site, the “Who Doesn’t Love Oil and Gas?” industry blog, the Montezuma Citizen Journalists’ Newsletter (last updated ten weeks ago), the Local Growers’ “Carrot Progress Report,” the county and three municipalities’ web sites, local court dockets, websites for the sheriff ’s office and city police, Larry Tradlener’s “The Federal Government Is Evil” report, and the “Yard Sale Express” Facebook page. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Hate them, grumble about them, curse them all you want. Newspapers are the best source for information about your local area – what meetings are coming up, what latest scandal has been uncovered in government, who’s running for office, who’s in the obituaries.

And the great urban and national papers such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Detroit Free Press (which, by the way, has never been free, either!) continue to probe important issues, uncover abuses in government, reveal corruption, and describe our world with depth and detail unmatched by other institutions.

The highly partisan Fox News and MSNBC are fun to watch, sure. But they do precious little original reporting. Where would they find news to comment on without the major mainstream papers and the news-gathering organizations that serve print outlets, such as AP and Reuters?

So the next time you balk at paying 50 cents, 75 cents, a dollar – whatever – for a newspaper, remember this: You are not paying just for a piece of paper. You’re paying for someone to sit through a fourhour meeting and boil it down to the essentials for you, to sort through hundreds and hundreds of crime reports, to call up a half-dozen officials and talk to each of them for a half-hour and assemble that information into digestible form. You’re supporting the people who edit those articles and write the headlines and put them into a readable format and distribute the papers where you can find them.

Fifty cents is about the cost of a postage stamp. It’s parking for an hour in downtown Durango. It’s two bubble-gum balls from a machine at the grocery store. Seventy-five cents is half a condom in the “Kwik-e-Mart’s” men’s room, or one-third the price of a greeting card. A dollar is one-fifth the cost of a jumbo mocha drink with extra whipped cream.

Maybe, just maybe, a newspaper is worth that much.