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Josh Bergeron: No longer print-only, local papers remain vital to their communities

Nonprofit organization PEN America’s report “Losing the News” released last month started with an apt metaphor for the battle newspapers across the country are facing.

The New York City-based organization has a mission of celebrating creative expression and defending the liberties that make it possible. And Trustee Ayad Akhtar started by likening the challenge facing newspapers to another one playing out in America.

“A local, rural business collapses after losing its battle with a national corporation from a distant city. What’s lost is not just the local livelihoods that business provided but also the local know-how that dies with it,” he wrote. “… Local news is local know-how defined.”

Local newspapers hold community leaders and public officials accountable, tell the story of people who live in their coverage area and, among other things, write the first draft of local history. It’s our job to employ reporters who become subject matter experts and who learn the names and stories of Rowan County’s people and places.

So when local newspapers shutter or pull back from smaller communities, history is harder to come by and more people are left uninformed about the world that surrounds them. Rowan County residents can’t turn to national news to find out about local problems, TV news stations don’t report on the communities in their markets with the same kind of granularity and social media contains half-truths and lies that obscure reality.

That’s not to say legacy news outlets don’t make mistakes, but they generally admit their faults and correct them. And when we make mistakes, we’d prefer readers let us know so that we can correct them and avoid them in the future.

The national corporation example is relevant because of the rise of social media as a primary source of news for many in the U.S. and, as the PEN America report states, “powerful tech giants have siphoned the ad revenue that long subsidized local accountability reporting.”

For local businesses, that could mean creating social media pages and paying to “boost” posts or purchase advertisements on Facebook instead of advertisements on the websites of local news outlets or in print. That’s despite the fact that people turn to local newspapers or their websites when they want to know what’s happening in their community and that printed newspapers are still the most complete package of news, sports, information, entertainment and advertising.

Local newspapers, by the way, have been more than printed products for years. The problem is not only a change in preference, but also that a minority of people pay for their news. An online subscription to the Post is the cost of a few cups of coffee per month and provides an advertising-lite experience, with no surveys or “takeover” ads.

It should go without saying that the news product the Post provides is unrivaled in Rowan County.

No one other than the Post has reported that the principal of Hurley Elementary School resigned last week and that the assistant principal is on paid leave — news that will be important for hundreds of students and parents. Immediately after we reported the news, we also submitted a public records request for additional information in an attempt to answer concerns from parents, who said “we deserve to know more.”

No one else has reported on Salisbury High School’s run to the football championship game with as much detail as the Post — a trend that’s repeated over and over with the Post’s stories, particularly with local sports. And when Salisbury High School seniors graduate next year, we’ll publish a section celebrating their accomplishments and those of their peers at other high schools across Rowan County.

The Post’s reporting was a major reason why a state embezzlement investigation started into the town of Landis’ finances, and we stayed on the story as it developed and as documents provided evidence salaries of town staffers were significantly higher than town board members knew.

Meanwhile, as one longtime, loyal reader told me last week, he paid just $1 for that day’s newspaper and saved several dollars when shopping with an included coupon.

The point is: local news matters and is a net value for its readers.

The plight of local newspapers across America and the difficult decisions that have followed should be a topic of prominent, national conversations. It’s not. There are hundreds fewer local newspapers than there were just 10 years ago and fewer reporters covering cities of all sizes.

If you’re reading this, particularly in print, you’re likely one of the Post’s thousands of loyal readers or subscribers. We appreciate every one, whether that readership is once a week or every day as well as online or in print.

So, what can you do to help?

If you’re a Post news consumer who’s not subscribed, you should do so by visiting subscriptions.salisburypost.com/CircStore or calling 704-797-7678. Online-only and print subscriptions are available. You can advertise in the Salisbury Post. Also, email us at news@salisburypost.com to tell us about stories we should write about or items we may have missed.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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