Tricounty News

The local newspaper: You can't beat it!

We've had ample opportunity to reflect on the concept of death and mourning over the last few weeks. Celebrities have been dropping like there's no tomorrow. For them, I guess there isn't: Ed McMahon, Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Billy Mays and Steve McNair - all have left us in the last month.
I've noted each passing with twinges of sadness and the realization of what will no longer be. Families without loved ones. Talent gone forever. The typical stuff that mourning is made of.

But I'm not out to write a column about the deaths of celebrities. Plenty of others have done that already.

I am writing about death and loss and mourning; but not of the celebrity type.

In the last month, I've become aware of another kind of demise: the kind affecting small newspapers.

There are lots of small newspapers around the country. Many have circulation numbers under 5,000. Some under 1,000. The size of each paper's distribution isn't the issue; every masthead represents a group of people (sometimes the group is made up of only one or two individuals) who work to bring the news to their respective towns each week. These good folks wear multiple hats. They report, write, do layout, design, take photographs, sell ads and solicit subscriptions. On a good day, they hope to turn a profit - nothing tremendous, mind you, just enough to sell a few more papers next week and put food on the table at home tonight.

They live down the road or across the street. They volunteer at school, shop at the supermarket, and check out books from the library. For the most part, they are not rich, nor do they have delusions of the newspaper business making that happen. They do what they do because it is who they are. It is in their blood; and it is, most often, a passion.

If you haven't figured it out, I like small-town newspapers. In a world of CEOs, conglomerates and corporate bail-outs, they represent a little piece of what our country is supposed to be about: neighbors and friends - real people - working hard to make it work.

So, when I e-mailed a column out a few weeks ago and had a couple of those e-mails returned as undeliverable, I was curious, in an ominous, lump-in-the-throat sort of way. I checked out the Web sites of the newspapers in question and found that they had ceased to exist. My lump was justified.

In the current economy, it isn't surprising that some businesses are failing. It's happening all around us, and it's never easy. Newspapers are bound to be affected.

Wherein lies the rub? Simply put, local newspapers fill a role that cannot be replaced.

Information is power. I believe that to my core. Newspapers - big or small - are all about the distribution of information.

Those of us living in small towns want the local stuff. Sure, we are interested in what's happening in the Big City, but small-town life is important too, especially for those of us living here. With the demise of the local paper, it's become easier for me to find out what is going on across the country than across town. I know more about Michael Jackson than my neighbor Jack Michaels. We've become world of the distant and have let the up-close-and-personal slip. We've forgotten how important neighbors can be. Local newspapers work to close this gap.

Whether a local newspaper is printed each week and available on newsstands, or if it is read solely online through a constantly updated Web site, the information transmitted is important to Joe Schmoe, John Doe, and the rest of us who live near them.

We all know that; we just forget sometimes. We get caught up in celebrities, reality TV shows, and things that are far away, and we forget that real life is happening right in our own backyard. Local newspapers are there to remind us of what's happening around us everyday.

I, for one, think that's important. Maybe not as important as the invention of the Moonwalk, but darned close. Darned close.

Jill Pertler is a syndicated columnist and award-winning freelance writer. She loves hearing from readers and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or you can check out her Web site at