An invitation to have a part in the introduction of a new community publication here in what I have always called the Center of the Universe—and yes, the capital letters are deserved—brought mixed emotions.
I feel some loyalty to the newspaper I founded almost half a century ago. Some feeling of guilt on my part remains even now because there was an existing publication back then. But it lacked the depth of coverage that the community deserved. Unfortunately, that condition is again present and I have great hopes that this new effort will fill that void.
A local newspaper has always been the mortar that binds homes into blocks that transform neighborhoods into a vibrant community. It brings an identity to that community—an identity that sets it apart with a sense of pride. The newspaper becomes their voice—one that echoes their lives, their opinions, their activities and their feelings. It records the comings and goings of our families, the activities that keep them involved, their achievements, and even their failures. The local paper is a journal of everyday life and a news medium within the combined media. The local publication, however, remains aloof from “the media” that has come to be so distrusted due to agendas that unfortunately no longer are confined to editorial pages.
In today’s world, newspapers face competition in many forms. Readers who used to have no other choice now have many ways to find out what is happening rather than what has happened. Television has brought images from around the world instantly into our homes. A cell phone that fits into the palm of our hand now puts us in touch with people and events anywhere on earth—or even beyond. Social media platforms let us check up on friends at any time, day or night.
Therein lies the rub. We have access to too much information. How reliable it is can be subject to debate. We can find out what the government is doing by going to an official site on the Internet. But there we get only the government’s point of view. Or a manufacturer’s sales pitch. Or a jilted lover’s side of the story. Or the angle that a social group administrator wants you to absorb.
The community newspaper is local. It can be depended upon. It has an editor who is responsible to the readers—neighbors who shop in the local stores, who attend church, whose children are classmates, and who are affected by events that happen in the community. If that responsibility falls short, the editor hears about it and must respond.
Local news is all about people.
Who lives here, what they like to do, and what they don’t like are of interest to their neighbors. Readers want to see the accomplishments of their children made known and the good deeds of their neighbors praised, as well as exposing the things that need improving in order to better serve their needs.
A local news organization’s purpose is to communicate. Communication, though, is a two-way street. The reader who sees something that deserves attention has a responsibility to call it to the editor’s attention. If a story gets the facts wrong, the error needs to be pointed out so that it can be corrected. If there is another viewpoint that deserves to be seen, that also should be made known.
The news business is complicated. To be successful, a publication must live up to its responsibilities in order to earn public trust. Freedom of the press is protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution, on a par with freedom of religion and the right to peaceably assemble and express opinion. The government cannot tell a news organization what to publish. It cannot even make a small business loan to a newspaper as that might be an attempt to influence the news. The organization likewise must stand ready to report freely and without bias on what the government does, protecting its position as a watchdog on behalf of the public.
Even so, the news business is a business. It is not subsidized—and rightfully so. By being subsidized, it becomes beholden to its benefactor. A free press is beholden only to the people it serves. Its continued presence, then, depends on its ability to sustain itself. Its lifeblood is either through paid subscriptions or revenue coming from advertising. If you, the reader, want a publication that provides you with information that benefits you, you need to let others know that you appreciate its presence. And it is vital that you also tell that to the advertisers who make it possible for the publication to flourish.
A publication with many pages of ads is one with many pages of local news.
Editor’s note: The ECHO News is delighted that Lee Jordan – founder of the Chugiak-Eagle River Star in 1971 and its publisher until the publication’s sale in 2000 – has joined this new venture. In 1999, when my family moved to this area, it was Lee whom put me to work covering the events and people of the land between two rivers. His written blessing upon The ECHO News is a journalistic treasure.