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A Diminished Voice

Ron Wayne, 1:16 pm ET

IN 1994, AMERICANS could find out what was going on in their communities by reading one of the 1,534 daily U.S. newspapers. Most of them were published in individual cities and towns where they served subscribers defined by geography, rather than by political persuasion or socio-economic class.

These newspapers were trusted voices. They provided common knowledge and community forums for everyone from bank presidents and doctors to plumbers and teachers.

As of 2018, 255 daily newspapers had stopped publishing, and the survivors have lost large numbers of readers. Instead, millions of Americans now depend on social media, notably Facebook, where forums and groups defined by interests proliferate and where news is reposted from dubious sources. Along the way, we’ve lost a common thread in our public discourse.

I was the editor of one of the 1,534 daily newspapers that existed in 1994. I always aimed to uphold the standards of journalism: accuracy, fairness and balance. They seem like quaint virtues today. So many people seek only to confirm their beliefs and never to be challenged.

Although many of the newspapers were owned by chains and needed to make profits, each had a degree of independence. Most sought to serve their communities as best they could.

Now, a whistleblower has confirmed that Facebook has put profits above all other considerations. Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg controls some 58% of the company’s voting stock. It boggles the mind to think that one individual can make final decisions that affect almost three billion monthly active users. One person controlling a massive communications network can’t be a good thing in the long run.

Who knows how much more successful the COVID-19 vaccine campaign would have been if we still had trusted local papers that reported facts and provided guidance? The digital age has brought many benefits. But it’s greatly diminished an institution that had once been an integral part of our communities.

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Bob Wilmes
Bob Wilmes
8 months ago

I recently saw the Storm Lake movie
https://stormlakemovie.com/

about a Pulitzer prize winning small town paper in Storm Lake Iowa. The paper is
family owned and struggled through the
COVID pandemic to retain readers and
advertisers.

In the next ten years, most local papers will
be extinct, simply because their economic
model no longer works. It’s going to be
very difficult to get local news about local
governments.

Ronald Wayne
Ronald Wayne
4 months ago
Reply to  Bob Wilmes

You might be right, but at the same time, I’m surprised this many are hanging on.

MarkP
MarkP
8 months ago

I share your dismay about the trend in news outlets and the shift to social media for “news”. I still like the very local news to see what’s happening in the area. I can report that some communities are having success with restarting newspapers as non-profits. I can point you toward the monthly Harpswell Anchor in Harpswell, ME as an example. This one has the advantage of a board that is loaded with former national media executives who are retired and/or have homes in the town. Their editor says it must be the most proofread paper in the country.

IAD
IAD
8 months ago

In addition to print journalism, look to the major televised media and will see a common denominator- a handful of companies controlling almost all news.

It seems the majority of folks have lost (or never had) the ability of discernment or logical thought, so gobble the “fast food” of news. People almost want to be told what to think and what to believe instead of developing their own position on a topic.

Jack Hannam
Jack Hannam
8 months ago

If a newspaper is consistently biased in favor of the left or right, many readers who don’t share that bias will understandably switch to a competitor whose bias aligns with their own. While this may strengthen kinship with other like-minded readers across the country, it further widens the gap between local neighbors who no longer share the same forum.

Mik Cajon
Mik Cajon
8 months ago

Beware of activists disguised as journalists i.e. fake news.

R Quinn
R Quinn
8 months ago

A sad commentary indeed, but even sadder is how much of the “journalism” left should actually be on the editorial and opinion pages. I also find headlines often don’t match the facts in the story that follows.

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