Today marks the beginning of what the national press calls “Sunshine Week” emphasizing openness in government and its records for the average citizen, and, of course, their representative — the press.
The Associated Press has penned a series of articles for this week about the dire times newspapers are in and the evolving landscape of journalism on a local level. I can’t help but roll my eyes sometimes at the dour reporting in these stories, rather than the truly uplifting side, which is: crediting the hard work journalists do every day as a check on government or merely bringing you news of unusual happenings or trends.
Newspapers aren’t dying and neither is journalism. In fact, it’s exploding with all the access the average citizen has to news platforms and discussion rooms online. With a small staff such as ours, it makes it difficult to keep up.
Of course not everyone is an expert, and journalists will be the first to tell you, that they are not, too. What they are, are the translators of all the jargon and government-speak that has permeated our language. They ask the questions you would ask if you had the time and ability.
Having a staff of reporters at a newspaper is like having watchdogs on your bank accounts. You pay property taxes, you pay fines, and you pay fees for all sorts of things. Watching how that money is being spent is a big part of journalism.
Who has time to sit through a three-hour city council meeting on a Monday evening? Journalists do.
Who has time to ferret out what is being taught in our schools and how our teachers stack up against others in the state? Journalists do.
Who has time to roundup all the events taking place right in your backyard, so you don’t have to search high and low for entertainment opportunities? Journalists do.
Can’t make it to the high school basketball playoffs? Check our website.
All this sounds a bit preachy, and God knows we’re not perfect, nor can we cover everything as it happens every day. But no one has invested in journalism more so than the local newspaper.
I once wondered aloud whether anyone locally is reading our editorial page. What I heard back was, yes indeed, it’s one of the top read pages in the paper. This is borne out by the fact that we often get several letters to the editor each week, and quite a few requests from local observers to pen their comments in a guest editorial. Often a local resident will seek us out to be the surrogate in asking the tough question of public officials, or just check out something for them, believing that when a newspaper reporter is asking, it has more legitimate weight than the average Joe.
But we are partners with the community and want to hear from you on how we’re doing. We want to hear if we’re off base, or missed the point of a story completely, or just didn’t catch that police scanner call at 3 a.m. As I noted above, a small staff has to prioritize what it can cover. What do you think our priority should be? Drop us an email with your suggestion.
And, since it’s Sunshine Week, we’ll be celebrating by asking for a wide variety of local documents from our government. But, in fact, it’s what we do every week.