Let me begin by saying that I have no financial connection to the Sedalia Democrat or any other newspaper but I have been a subscriber to it for most of my life.
It is no great revelation to most that the numbers of and circulation of newspapers has declined dramatically over the last 30 years. Circulation has declined for the last 30 consecutive years and hundreds of local papers have closed shop. In addition, existing papers have cut staff significantly and many have changed their format and philosophy to try to battle this decline.
Local newspapers have provided important connections to our communities that predate the founding of this great nation. Freedom of the Press is considered so essential to the health of our republic that it was, of course, included in the First Amendment to the Constitution.
There are many causes for this decline but undoubtedly it has been led by the proliferation of technology and social media communication options. I wish I had an easy solution to this “problem.” I am operating a bit under the assumption that many do not view the decline as a problem, let alone a crisis. I’m certain there are many who are more than content to access social media and receive only information on topics that represent their views. This is perhaps one of the reasons political and social issues have become so polarized and heated today. Unfortunately, I do not have an easy solution and like many problems, the solution may be painful and involve sacrifice.
The importance of professionally trained and objective journalism should not need to be defended but I will. Despite what some seem to believe, professional journalists are educated and grounded in the importance of being ethical and objective. Of course, there are exceptions but in what field is there not?
Locally, newspapers not only keep us informed of soft events and important happenings, they also serve historically as a watchdog of both public and private organizations. There are so many examples but one that many can relate to is the work of Upton Sinclair that lead to the Pure Food and Drug Act. Another is the work of Woodward and Bernstein and the reporting on Watergate that led to President Nixon’s resignation.
In our daily lives, we just do not have time or the expertise to monitor all of the government and private abuses that may occur. I believe whole-heartedly that the vast majority of people are good and are just doing their best. But, there is no denying that some violate public trust or let greed lead them astray. We must have professional journalists there to report on this when it occurs. If we continue to lose our newspapers we are opening ourselves up for corruption and yes, crisis.
I realize if you are reading this then it is likely that I am simply preaching to the choir. It is my hope to motivate deeper, more serious thought and begin a discussion on what we the average citizen may do. One of the most important responsibilities of citizenship is recognizing problems, proposing solutions and committing ourselves to work towards a solution.
I recently heard a proposal that approaching local newspapers and media in a way not unlike public broadcasting might be the answer. I’m not sure. I tend to overthink issues and I can see both positive and negatives of that arrangement. However, I am certain if we do not do something, a crisis of corruption that may challenge our freedom is on the horizon.