November 23, 2020
By Arthur H. Gunther III
Once, there was a “Front Page” in every community, newspapers and characters straight out of the famous 1928 play/movie by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht, but now the city rooms are fast shutting their lights as the roar of the presses gives way to smart phone clicks and word/visual bites, blared gossip and falsehoods on social media instead of informed articles that can thwart democracy dying in darkness.
Newspapers continue to disappear, some after a century of providing the who, what, where, when, how and why that is essential to the republic, victims of fewer readers and folk who prefer the immediacy of the iPhone. Victims of advertisers who flock to the internet. Victims of hedge-hunter investors who sell off newspaper assets for quick profit.
Town boards, school boards, planning/zoning boards are not covered in depth any more, if at all, and so many shenanigans can occur in that dark. Newspapers also help bring communities together in local sports reports, feature stories, coverage that reinforces pride, the good news counterpoint to the crime news of imperfect humanity.
The recent presidential election and Trump’s dictator-like assault on facts, his reliance on cultivating fear and worry and change and stroking it with false promise, was the swollen river difficult to cross as far fewer newspapers could offer facts. The depth of ignorance he mined is so very great, and the worry going forward is that it will lie like an ember until he or his like are next on the stage to ignite the real “fake news.”
The bromide quote is that you shoot the messenger, and that’s why newspapers have always been derided. “You can’t believe what’s in the paper.” “Good to wrap the garbage in.” “Only liberals work at newspapers.” Common comment, and actually healthy, although not intended. Always question what you read, check things out, be skeptical, write a letter to the editor. Such is the forum of democracy.
But embrace the messenger, too, for without the irreverent tribe of women and men who take names and poke and poke, only the con men will rule.
The writer is a retired newspaperman.