June Girard: Local newspapers still matter

Published: Monday, January 5, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 4, 2009 at 4:50 p.m.

Pre-literate people dispatched news on puffs of smoke or the beats of drums. From the time of Pheideppides the messenger that brought news of a victory to Athens to the modern day newspaper, the exchange of news is an integral part of humanity.

I have often heard people diminish the value of our local newspapers. Well, I agree, they are not the beacons of light that The New York Times and its ilk may be, but they serve an important need.

It is axiomatic in journalism that the fastest medium with the largest potential audience will disseminate the bulk of a community's breaking news. Outside of a possibly larger audience on the local internet, (of which I have to admit I have no knowledge), our local newspapers serve that purpose.

The power and involvement of our community in the global village is practically non-existent. As an appendage of the university with too few voters of our own to affect any state, national or international decisions, we have little or no clout. The small size and isolation of our community forces us to focus on the minutiae of social existence in our area.

In a democracy a paper has the responsibility to write about issues, events and public people; or print articles and letters that explain why something or someone is right or wrong.

A newspaper must publish only that which carries the courage of those convictions by a signature. We might not always agree with our local paper, but we should always respect it.

The local news is our connection to events beyond our reach of sight or the range of our hearing. In a way, it serves as one of our senses, our "social sense," which provides us with an awareness; a kind of security.

Modern journalists look for impact, emotional appeal, conflict, timeliness, proximity, prominence and the unusual. Our news is very much about those events that manage to distinguish themselves from ordinary experience.

When someone breaks a law and gets arrested, when someone's life is shattered by an accident, when someone dies, when anything out of the way takes place; people want to know about it.

We use our local newspapers as a source of pragmatic information on movies, and for the weather. We use them to keep up with the lives of people we have come to "know" through the paper; from the characters in news stories to the authors of the columns.

We use them for diversions as a source of information on public affairs and to prepare ourselves to hold our own in local conversations.

Our local newspapers keep us abreast of our cultural opportunities; like our regional performing arts center and university theatres.

Our newspapers report the news of our neighborhoods. And to the extent that the exchange of news helps find neighborhoods, we find our identity as participants.

After all, as Horace Greeley once said "the subject of deepest interest to an average human being is himself ... next to that, he is most concerned with his neighbors ..."

Our environment does not just encompass air, water and the natural landscape; it includes homes, offices, parks, shops, short-lived festivals anything that influences people and their surroundings. We have a group identity forged by geography that is preserved in the environment of our history, art and our newspapers.

Think about that when you pick up your local newspaper with its front page headlines about local sports, what is happening in our schools or to our utility bills and all the other mundane reports that help create your identity and make you one of the neighbors we care about.

June Girard lives in Gainesville.

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