WENDY ELLIOTT COLUMN: Newspapers are a mirror of the community

Wendy Elliott welliott@kingscountynews.ca
Published on April 26, 2016
Wendy Elliott Column

Joe Howe, whose year this is, once said, “My public life is before you; and I know you will believe me when I say, that when I sit down in solitude to the labours of my profession, the only questions I ask myself are, What is right? What is just? What is for the public good?”

That is the motivation for all good journalists. Some of us are naturally curious and we kind of enjoy

sniffing around. But lately I’ve been forced to wonder how long print will be in evidence.

Back in the 1970s, I recall a fellow climbing into the Hants Journal office every Wednesday, looking for a fresh edition of the paper. It was the same in Berwick.

Editor J.E. Woodworth once wrote about The Register, “The eagerness of its readers to obtain their copy at the earliest possible moment is the cause of repeated queries at the post office wicket early in the afternoon of publication, ‘Is The Register out yet?’"

Those who have journeyed far from home, as Woodworth said, were no less eager. The weekly paper was the equivalent of a letter from home chronicling events, progress and community development.

Many subscribers only got one newspaper and it was the weekly one. In the 1970s when I got hooked on weekly news, they were profitable, even more profitable than they had been due to cheaper offset printing techniques. The strength of the weekly lay in the fact readers saw their community as an important part of the universe.

April Lindgren, associate professor in Ryerson University's School of Journalism, thinks it's “important to think of news being at least a mirror of the community and we can all gaze into that mirror to see what's going on."

Word that another paper closed is sometimes met with resignation as the business climate changes.

Lindgren sees areas that fall into a pattern of “news poverty.” She asks does that trend result in poor election turnout for example?

At their most noble, journalists act as a "watchdog on power," she says. But even when they fall short, Lindgren says her research shows it's important that they just watch.

Without community newspapers, I fear municipal council meetings might go uncovered.  Locally I know radio stations and daily papers don’t get staff out when local government convenes.

Lindgren told Jon Tattrie, for a recent CBC series, "We live in a time when there is more media than ever, but less local news. You walk over to your computer and the world is there for you to discover. But if you want to find out what's going on down the street, there aren't that many news organizations that are producing verified, factual news," she said.

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