There is a proverb: “Every time an old man dies, a library burns down.”

The same, perhaps, could be said of the closing of a local newspaper.

Perhaps you greeted the news of the Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator’s demise with a shrug, or given the current atmosphere, you might even be glad to hear it.

But every loss of a local news outlet diminishes the community it was created to serve. It’s one less source for information about the people who live there: their births, deaths, marriages and accomplishments.

Whenever you see stories that otherwise wouldn’t make a cable news broadcast, you can bet a local newspaper reported it first. And those cable outlets can’t begin to tell the story of a community the way newspapers can.

One less newspaper is one less place in which you can find stories about the doings of local government or ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It’s one less advocate for that which is right and fair.

Local newspapers do the work so you won’t have to. Consider what some people are doing in broad daylight; now imagine what happens when they know no one is watching.

During Youngstown’s salad days as a hub of organized crime, the Vindicator fearlessly exposed the criminal underworld’s nefarious activities. When the late Rep. Jim Traficant’s antics amused people elsewhere, it was the Vindicator that investigated and found conduct unbecoming of a public servant.

Earlier this year when the GM plant closed in Lordstown, the national media swooped in, did their obligatory reports and swept back out. Local newspapers continue to tell the stories of the people left behind.

Like so many institutions, technology has created challenges that local newspapers have yet to conquer. The Catch-22 of technology is that while it’s the very means by which the local newspaper can reach the entire planet, it also has been an undeniable factor in the herculean struggle to survive.

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, weekday print circulation has declined 11%, followed by a 10% decline in Sunday circulation. Over the past 10 years, newspaper employment has declined 25%. One-third of all outlets have suffered layoffs since 2017.

There’s no question social media, which is free, has changed how people value information. As with anything “free,” however, there’s always a catch. The time-tested adage to “consider the source” is being thrown out with the bathwater.

Do local newspapers make mistakes? Plenty; people are human. The difference is intent. No one in local media is getting paid enough to do hit jobs and grind axes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for reporters in the in the U.S. is $34,000.

Legitimate media acknowledges its mistakes and tries to rectify them. We want to get it right, because local media is a repository, if you will, of a community’s history. It practically takes an act of Congress before a social media outlet is willing to admit it made a mistake.

It is no coincidence that when the leaders of the American Revolution wanted to advance the cause of independence they resorted to newspapers and pamphlets to make their case. It should have been no surprise that freedom of the press was the first right enshrined in the Constitution.

However, let’s be honest. If Ben Franklin and Patrick Henry had access to Twitter, they would have used it. There’s no doubt the Boston Tea Party would have been live-streamed, and just like people today who can’t resist broadcasting their misdeeds, they would have been arrested and hanged for it.

The city of Youngstown won’t close its doors as a result of losing the Vindicator, but as with the loss of any public service, the community will be poorer for it.

 

Charita M. Goshay is a columnist for GateHouse Media. She can be reached at charita.goshay@cantonrep.com.