When I was in grade school my grandparents lived on Lakeview Terrace between Haskell and Wolf Run roads, but they spent their summers at The Camp in Mount Jewett, McKean County, the town where my grandfather was born.
In those summers, every morning except Sunday, he drove “uptown” and picked up a copy of The Bradford Era that was set aside for him at Anderson’s candy store on Main Street. In the afternoon he returned to pick up his copy of the Olean Times Herald.
“Why do you get two papers, Grandpappy?” we grandkids would ask during our cherished weekends at The Camp.
“Because I want to read the news,” he would say through his pipe smoke.
Back then, it was all nation and world on the front page of both papers — Nixon and Washington this, China and the Soviets that, a big weather disaster or plane crash somewhere. In a time before 24-hour TV news cycles — and well before personal computers, smartphones and social media were even dreamed of by the average consumer — the local newspaper was still a primary outlet for what we call wire news. Local and regional news was spread across the inside pages.
But while my grandparents were of course interested in world events, I’m certain they would faithfully “take the paper” because they wanted to read the obituaries and social news, community government and area sports articles, the police and court reports and perhaps the reason that the Mount Jewett Volunteer Fire Department horn sounded the day before at a time other than noon.
Nearly 50 years later I sometimes marvel at the fact that I have been affiliated, for almost all of my adult life, with the two newspapers Grandpappy faithfully picked up at the candy store. And I can admit that I sometimes wish that we had an audience whose only other daily news outlets were radio and an hour a night of news anchors Irv Weinstein and Walter Cronkite on TV.
But during National Newspaper Week, which is this week, it’s important to remember the continued importance of our role in covering local events and issues — serving as a voice and a watchdog for our communities in the Twin Tiers. Unlike so much information spread through social media, we actually go to the sources — to members of the community, to elected officials and school adminstrators, to police and fire officials, wherever an incident or a news tip takes us, to actually get the full story.
We record the successes — and the failures — in our communities as we tell the story of everyday life. It’s a story that reminds us everyday of who we are, where we want to go and what we perhaps could be.
It’s true that there aren’t as many of us in the newsrooms of The Era and the Times Herald as there was back in the day — but believe me when I write the people who are there work harder than they ever had to put out a day’s paper and stories and photos on our respective websites. And we can use your help — it’s often only through readers and members of the community that we receive ideas and tips on what are important stories that should be covered.
Meanwhile, the American Press Institute points to a recent Duke University study that shows local newspapers significantly outperform local TV, radio and digital media outlets, not only in terms of overall output, but also in terms of coverage that is truly local, original and serve a critical information need.
While local newspapers made up 25% of the news outlets sampled in the study, they produced 60% of the news that met those criteria.
Online-only media outlets, meanwhile, made up only 10% of the news outlets surveyed, but produced 10% of the news that met the criteria. The findings emphasize the importance of supporting newspapers and “suggest that commercial and philanthropic efforts to establish online-only outlets as comparable alternatives to local newspapers remain far from this goal,” according to the study’s authors.
A true irony of our time is just when communities, this nation and the world need trusted and responsible news sources — with name brands that are indelible imprints in the communities they serve — support of newspapers is not what it was.
Our First Amendment, which ensures that knowledge, ideas and opinions flow freely, is the first pillar of democracy and freedom, both at the national and local levels. Consider buying a newspaper, or pay for that online access, to ensure that pillar remains standing.
(Jim Eckstrom is editor of the Olean Times Herald, The Bradford Era and Bradford Publishing Co. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)