The power of this paper

By Leeanne Seaver

If you’re reading this paper, you are an increasingly rare group. Having the South County News at your disposal puts you in a small subset of American citizens with access to a local newspaper. The importance of this can’t be overstated.

The “local” aspect is key. It’s what brings us into the story of shared experience that transforms individuals into a community. There’s reciprocity involved here that needs what a local newspaper delivers: a mechanism for knowing each other’s story—and why it matters.

The more we’re associated in an inclusive community, the more it matters to us—and we matter to it. What comes of that dynamic is democracy in action. When an engaged community generates enough group-think to reach consensus on what matters, that’s the tipping point. Things get done. Goals get reached.

The local newspaper is both a chronicle of past events and current community values. It reflects concerns, behavior, choices, and decisions back to the people involved, not just for documentation but for further consideration. This prompts accountability, deliberation, necessary changes, and improvements in a community. According to the experts, there’s a high cost for losing such a vital resource.

A good local paper is one everybody reads. Social media is scattered, diverse, and not functioning the way a local newspaper does to unite a community. A local paper may not unify everyone in thought on politics or various topics, but it does bring people who are living in the same place together in a form of shared conversation. ~ Leonard Krishtalka, PhD, anthropologist and author. 2021.

When more journalists were working at the local paper, more candidates ran for mayor. If a newspaper hired one more staffer for each 1,000-person circulation (or 10 staffers for a paper with a circulation of 10,000), the number of candidates would increase by an expected factor of 1.23, all else held constant. When there are fewer reporters covering an area, fewer people run for mayor, and fewer people vote. Put another way: When newspaper staffing levels are higher, voters have more of a choice in who leads their city, and more of them feel like showing up to choose.” ~ Sarah Holder, “As local newspapers shrink, so do voters’ choices.” in Bloomberg. 2019.

If a county/municipality doesn’t have a local newspaper, there will likely be a higher interest rate charged by a lender because the risk of “bad actors” in local government going undiscovered by the local press is an identified factor. “When a lender is more nervous about lending to an inefficient government, then they’re going to have to ask for a higher interest rate on the money they’re lending to compensate for that risk.” ~ Dermot Murphy, Finance Professor, University of Illinois/Chicago. Local Newspaper Closures Come With Hefty Price Tag For Residents : NPR. 2018.

You lose a community institution that is the source of trust and therefore you don’t have the glue that holds the community together. ~ Frank Fukuyama, Political Scientist, Stanford University. 2021.

When people lament the decline of small newspapers, they tend to emphasize the most important stories that will go uncovered: political corruption, school-board scandals, zoning-board hearings, police misconduct. They are right to worry about that. But often overlooked are the more quotidian stories, the ones that disappear first when a paper loses resources: stories about the annual Teddy Bear Picnic at Crapo Park, the town-hall meeting about the new swimming-pool design, and the tractor games during the Denmark Heritage Days.

These stories are the connective tissue of a community; they introduce people to their neighbors, and they encourage readers to listen to and empathize with one another. When that tissue disintegrates, something vital rots away. We don’t often stop to ponder the way that a newspaper’s collapse makes people feel: less connected, more alone. As local news crumbles, so does our tether to one another. ~ Elaine Godfrey, The Atlantic Magazine. October 2021.

Vicksburg has a rich newspapering heritage. Thanks to the efforts of Sue Clark Moore and a dedicated team that continues with Kathy Oswalt Forsythe as editor, we have this informative, entertaining, and crucial record of our shared experience in South Kalamazoo County. We should never take it for granted. Like every member of this community, each of our subscriptions matter.

(This article includes excerpts from This Writer: The History of the Simons, an America Newspaper Family by Dolph Simons and Leeanne Seaver. The World Company publishers. Due in September 2023. Used with Permission.)

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